Action News Volume 7 No 4, 2000, ISSN 1324-6011
Candle Soot Damage Case
By Cathy Flanders, Indoor
Air Quality List Manager and Moderator,
Back in November 1997 we filed a civil product liability suit against the Gap, Inc. (and its subsidiary Banana Republic) for selling candles which contained a substantial quantity of lead. [Ed. Note: The Gap is a large clothing and home ware manufacturing and retail chain store throughout the US.] We burned a number of these candles over a period of months - until we began to see black & gray soot deposits on walls, ceilings, H/VAC [heating/ventilation air conditioning] vents, plastic items, carpeting, electronics, etc. At first we didn't make the connection to the candles, but through a process of elimination we determined the cause was candles & a forensic lab performed testing to confirm this. We also discovered through analytical testing of materials & air-chamber sampling that the candles contained lead and a number of other chemicals such as benzene, toluene, vinyl chloride, etc. that are known to be harmful. Dust wipe samples taken inside our home revealed lead dust deposits on surfaces throughout the ventilated living space, in some areas as high as 40 mg per square foot. Meanwhile, the Gap had been contacted prior to us finding out about the lead and prior to the lawsuit being filed, to report the damage caused by these candles & we requested a list of ingredients (which we were told would be forthcoming. We are still waiting, despite their defiance of a discovery order). The reason we wanted the list of ingredients is during the time the candles were burned everyone in the house noticed black mucus & an increase in respiratory infections & illness over what we normally experienced in the Winter. After the connection was made & discussed with our physician, he indicated he wanted an ingredient list to determine what else we may have been exposed to. At this time we also filed a complaint & incident report with the CPSC regarding these candles. The Gap sent out their insurance people & they flat out refused to issue any kind of recall, warning or change product warning labels. We filed the lawsuit the very next day.
We are but weeks away from another candle season; October through January is the period of highest candle consumption in the US. It also happens to be the time when we have our homes closed up the tightest. If history repeats itself the "candle burning season" will be followed by a rash of distressed home owners reporting extensive soot deposition to their home owners insurance only to find out that most insurance companies will decline coverage for this sort of damage. So the home owner is left paying the clean-up bill for thousands of dollars in damage to their home & contents. It's really sad, but each report, letter, phone call or e-mail I get from home owners basically all say the same thing..."if only I had known!" To date I have been contacted by over 350 of these unfortunate home owners (I've kept a running file collecting all these reports) & I've been contacted by countless 3rd parties investigating hundreds more.
The case received national attention for the first time when it was featured on page one of the Wall Street Journal 31st March 1999. Since then National Public Radio has aired a segment and a number of well known & highly regarded publications have run articles, ie. Kiplingers, Red book, Good Housekeeping, Women's World, and "E" [Environment] just to name a few. Broadcasting networks & affiliates also picked up on the story of lead in candlewicks with great interest this past holiday season resulting in a flood of televised warnings about toxic candle emissions. This firestorm of media coverage has turned out to be a public relations nightmare for the candle industry and their representing trade organization. And CBS just recently [Monday, Sept. 13 at 11 p.m.] aired a segment [Ed. Note: see list of websites below] on Channel 2000 - Burning Danger - A CBS 2 News Special Assignment: -
"If you like to burn candles in your home, some experts say you should think twice. CBS 2 News' Thelma Gutierrez reports you might be creating an invisible 'Burning Danger'."
The National Candle Association, even in light of all the negative media attention, has continued to give consumers assurances that they need only be concerned with imported candles when NCA is fully aware that evidence indicates both domestic & imported candles have been found to contain lead.
"The NCA's executive vice-president, Mary Ann McDermott, denies the accusations, insisting its members have not produced candles with lead-core wicks for more than 25 years.
"The NCA's McDermott says the association has never known there to be a problem with paraffin candles, though she says some volatile compounds burn off in minute quantities. Desperate candle lovers can find safe solace in beeswax or soy-based alternatives, though McDermott says they do not burn as clearly nor as well as paraffin candles." [SOURCE: National Post Online - Artslife, 30 November 99]
NCA has also encouraged consumers to test their own candle wicks if they have lingering questions by stripping away the cotton covering & scratching the metal wire on paper to see if it makes a mark. The NCA has included a description of this "test" in all of their recent press releases & it is prominently featured on their web site [see extract below in Web-links section]. The instructions don't provide any precautions or safety measures to be taken when conducting this test or multiple tests. No guidance is given to: wear disposable gloves, not to touch eyes, nose or mouth, or wash hands afterwards, There is no plan to follow regarding disposal if you do discover lead. See www.ccohs.ca website listed below for an MSDS on lead metal. [Ed. Note: The NCA has not provided any note on their website of the likelihood that all metal cores for wicks will contain some lead and that lead alloys are also used - what would the result of the paper rubbing test be for an alloy?]
NCA had a voluntary ban (that they failed to monitor) which led to the mess we are dealing with today. It is my opinion that they are on a mission of damage control but they may be making things worse. Aside from ignoring the safety risks, the NCA has not provided any evidence that this test is reliable or accurate.
Candles have never been more popular with consumers, especially women consumers (96% of women have purchased candles in the past 12 months).
The more people that are exposed to correct information, the more damage to health & property that can be avoided. The sad truth is once a home is contaminated with sub-micron lead dust the cost to remediate can easily exceed the value of the home in some cases. In addition, once a home owner begins to notice soot deposition on walls, carpets & household articles its typically too late to prevent much of the property damage.
I've spoken to the Health Science Department at the CPSC (US Consumer Product Safety Commission) on a number of occasions nearly three years ago about the lead in candles problem. They are fully aware of the fact that candles have been & are continuing to be sold in this country containing significant amounts of lead. I know some of the experts that have been in touch with them, they have been sent lab analyses substantiating these facts & they have received well over 100 letters & messages (that I know of) requesting an immediate ban on the use of lead in candle products in the US. And yet the CPSC has failed to issue an enforceable ban & take the decisive steps Australia has implemented to protect the public from this totally unnecessary exposure to a very toxic poison.
Although, the National Candle Association and the CPSC will claim that lead was banned in candles 25 years ago there is overwhelming evidence that not only was/is the ban not observed but not enforced in any way. Never were any consequences indicated or administered to those who chose not to abide by this "voluntary action". This industry has proven wholly incapable of enforcing any policies to insure the safety & health of consumers. And for reasons unbeknownst to me, the CPSC chose to not issue an enforceable ban 25 years ago, in spite of a plea from the Administrator of the EPA at the time (Russell E. Train), evidence from Research Triangle Park studies & the Health Research Group and the filing of 2 petitions by Dr. Sidney Wolfe, Director of the Health Research Group (I do have copies of most of these). Not only did the CPSC fail to issue a ban but they also succumbed to the Candle Industry's resisting-by-bemoaning a product warning label that could have at least indicated & warned consumers that the product contained lead. The Ad Hoc Committee's opinion was that such a label would have a negative impact with consumers & candle sales would suffer. The CPSC caving into pressure from ANY industry over the concerns of consumers flies in the face of reason & undermines the purpose of the CPSC.
[On the 10th Dec 1999 the CPSC emailed The LEAD Group Inc. their Public Calendar which noted a meeting with the National Candle Association (NCA) set down for 15th Dec 1999. We immediately advised Cathy]
I am just a housewife & Mom in Plano TX that just wanted to let others know of a danger lurking behind a seemingly innocuous product & keep others from having to go through what her family went through.
Aside from toxic emissions, hundreds of home owners around the country have been reporting substantial property damage to their home's interiors & contents from candle soot deposits on everything from walls, ceilings and carpets to plastics, toys and computers and other electronics.
What to do if you have property damage in your home from candle burning.
Here are a few of the things that are important to do ASAP if damage is of substantial monetary value:
[The LEAD Group has again recently passed on to Cathy Flanders a notice from the CPSC of a meeting on Candle Products to discuss progress in standards development; on Friday 5th May 2000. Hopefully this will be the meeting at which CPSC bans lead wick candles in the US - then only a global ban remains to be achieved! Great work Cathy!!]
Quotable Quotes from Cathy Flanders
"We must be the change we wish to see in the world" - Gandhi
"When a boat is in dangerous waters, one centred person with strong intention can prevent it from capsizing." - Thich Nhat Hanh
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Updated 20 November 2013