Get The Lead Out

Softly glowing candles add luster and warmth to any room. But some candles may harbor lead in their wicks—added as a stiffening agent—and creating a potentially dangerous source of airborne lead particles. One recent study showed that burning lead-wicked candles for three hours increased air lead concentrations to levels 10 to 36 times greater than permitted by the Environmental Protection Agency (Journal of the American Medical Association, 2000, vol. 284, no. 2).

"Lead is a well-documented cause of very serious neurological and developmental diseases," says Peter Lurie, MD, coauthor of the study and deputy director of the health research group for Public Citizen, a consumer-watchdog organization. According to Lurie, there is no reliable way to test for lead in candle wicks, so he suggests consumers not buy a candle with any kind of metal wick. A final ruling by the Consumer Product Safety Commission on whether to ban lead wicks is expected in early 2002.

—Elisa Bosley