Federal regulators voted to ban candles that have lead in their wicks because of the risk that young children might inhale poisonous fumes or touch toxic lead dust on furniture.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission voted 2-1 to approve the ban — which would not become active until late this year, said Ann Brown, chairwoman of the commission. The dissenting member had wanted to wait for White House approval.
Candles with lead are showing up on store shelves and being burned in homes across the country despite a voluntary 1974 ban by U.S.-based candle companies, the commission said. Most of the candles with lead are imported.
Government testing found that only a small percentage of candles contain lead, but some of those that do can release up to five times the amount of lead considered hazardous for children younger than 6. No cases of lead poisoning from candles have been reported.
Many candle companies use metal, usually zinc or tin, to give wicks a support as they burn.
The government says it is impossible to tell if a metal core contains lead without laboratory testing and is warning consumers with small children to throw away or leave unused all candles with metal cores.
People can tell if a candle wick has a metal core by looking at the top of the wick or splitting it apart.
The government is concerned that children could inhale the lead or eat it after it settles onto surfaces. Children are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can cause a variety of ailments, ranging from lower intelligence and learning disabilities to seizures and death.
Most candles with lead are sold by foreign companies, which are doing better business than ever because of a boom in the candle industry.
American manufacturers produced about 700 million pounds (317 million kilos) of candles in 1999 and about 445 million pounds (201 million kilos) were imported, a third of which came from mainland China. China has no policy on lead in candles.
Brown said this test was “nonsense” and that all metal wicks make such a mark.
While the government studies didn’t say precisely how many dangerous candles are in stores, it does support research by the consumer group Public Citizen that found about 3 percent of the candles purchased from retail stores in the Washington area contain lead.
Following its study a year ago, Public Citizen and two national housing associations asked the safety commission to ban the candles.