It's Your Health
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Candles can be a serious fire hazard if not used properly. Some candles also have design flaws that increase the risk of fire. Others may contain materials like lead that present health hazards, especially for children. There are a number of things you can do to reduce health and safety risks when you burn candles.
Every year in Canada, human error is responsible for starting a number of candle fires. Some of the common mistakes people make include:
Canada-wide statistics for candle fires are not available. However, based on data from Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and B.C., it is estimated that candles were responsible for an average of nearly 800 candle fires in Canada each year between 1999 and 2008, with a yearly average of 8 fire deaths, 115 fire injuries and $26.2 million in property damage. Candle fires are most common during holidays and special occasions.
The most obvious hazard when you burn candles is the risk of injury or death from fire. In most cases, candle fires are caused by the human errors noted above, but the design of candles can also increase the risk of fire and fire-related injuries.
One example is candles with multiple wicks. Health Canada tested this type of candle and found that with certain brands, lighting all of the wicks at once can produce a single high flame, or a number of large flames close together. The result is very intense heat that can ignite nearby materials, like curtains or clothing. These candles can also melt rapidly, leaving a large pool of hot wax that can cause burns.
The materials used in and on the candles can also present fire hazards. For example, some candles have decorations made of paper and ribbons, and some have outer layers made of tree bark, paper or other non-wax coating. These materials are very flammable and may increase the risk of fires and burns.
In some cases, fires are started because the candle wax gets so hot it catches fire itself.
Some candles may also have wicks with a metallic core that may contain lead. When these wicks burn, they produce lead vapours and dust, which can be harmful, especially for children and pregnant women. You can test candles you already own to see whether the wick contains lead by removing wax from the tip of the wick, separating the fibre strands from the wick to see if there is a metallic core, and rubbing this metallic core on a piece of white paper. If it leaves a grey mark on the paper, then the metallic core is probably lead.
Another example of a material that may be hazardous is the liquid fuel used in decorative oil lamps. These lamps are also called liquid paraffin candles. The fuel is usually a petroleum distillate, which is poisonous when swallowed. There have been at least eight incidents of Canadian children being poisoned by drinking this fuel directly from the lamps. In one case, the child died.
"Relight" candles (also known as "trick" candles or "magic" candles) are also hazardous. These candles can reignite spontaneously after the flame has been put out. The sale, advertising or importing of relight candles has been prohibited in Canada since 1977.
The following steps will help minimize your risk when you burn candles in your home.
Health Canada works closely with a number of partners to promote the safe use of products and protect the public from product-related hazards. Some of Health Canada's activities related to candles include:
For more information visit the following websites:
For safety information about food, health and consumer products visit the Safe Consumers website
For more articles on health and safety issues go to the It's Your Health web section
You can also call toll free at 1-866-225-0709 or TTY at 1-800-267-1245*
Updated : January 2011
Original: December 2003
ęHer Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Health, 2004