Lead in candle emissions

Sci Total Environ. 2002 Sep 16;296(1-3):159-74. doi: 10.1016/s0048-9697(02)00072-4.


The candle-using public should be made aware that the core of candle wicks may contain lead. Used as a stiffening agent to keep the wick out of the molten wax, lead can be emitted as particulates to the air and then deposited on indoor surfaces. To define the problem, 100 sets of candles (two or more identical candles) were purchased locally. The criterion for purchase was that the candles must appear to contain a metal-cored wick or be covered by a metallic pigment. Of the candles purchased, 8% contained lead wicks. The wicks were 39-74% lead (the remainder was fabric or paper) and the lead cores (approx. 100% lead) had linear densities of 13-27 mg/cm. Candles were burned to completion in a closed chamber to capture the air emissions, and the candle residue was extracted to assess the lead mass balance. It was found that individual candles emitted lead to the air at average rates that ranged from 100 to 1700 microg/h. Assuming realistic indoor conditions, these emission rates were modeled to project room air concentration, child exposure by inhalation, and indoor deposition. Results showed that burning single candles can easily raise the source room concentration above the ambient air lead concentration limit of 1.5 microg/m3 set by EPA. Burning multiple candles can elevate it above OSHA permissible exposure limits of 50 microg/m3. Although blood lead levels have dropped precipitously in the United States since lead was phased out of gasoline in 1986, nearly 900,000 children still had levels above 10 microg/dl during NHANES III. Considering that candle sales in the US are estimated at $1-2 billion per year, and that children may spend as much as 88% of their time indoors, it is reasonable to suspect that some blood lead elevation in children arises from indoor micro-environments where lead-wick candles are burned.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution, Indoor / analysis*
  • Child
  • Child Welfare
  • Fires
  • Forecasting
  • Humans
  • Inhalation Exposure*
  • Lead / analysis*
  • Manufactured Materials
  • Paraffin


  • Lead
  • Paraffin