Thursday, November 01, 2007

Candles Can Be Dangerous

Although candles can add warmth, atmosphere, and pleasing scents to a home, and especially with the holiday season just around the corner, candles in the form of votives and tapers are extremely popular. However, many people are unaware that candles can also contribute to indoor air pollution by releasing particulate matter in the form of soot into the air. Both scented and unscented candles emit a variety of byproducts upon burning and particle matter.

Apparently, studies have also shown that petroleum-based (paraffin) candles and scented candles are the worst offenders. Paraffin is a derivative of petroleum, and when burned, they release toxins such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and soot into the air. These paraffin and scented candles can also trigger allergic and asthma-like reactions such as sore throat, itchy and watery eyes, headaches, and skin irritation.

In addition to harmful particulate matter, candles may often be sources of lead. Although candles made in the United States are prohibited from using lead wicks, imported candles may still use lead wicks. When lead is heated, it produces fine particles of lead oxide which is easily inhaled and deposited into lung tissue. This can cause a variety of health problems such as cardiovascular and nervous system symptoms. The use of candles can also contribute to unsightly discoloration of walls, ceilings, and the contents of a home, as well as contaminating the ventilation system’s ductwork.

For safe candle use, try alternatives to paraffin-based candles such as those that are unscented and made from soy or beeswax. Watch for any shiny metal wires inside the wicks of candles, and keep wicks trimmed to one-quarter inch for complete combustion. If you insist on a fragrance, put a few drops of scented oil into a diffuser or in some boiling water. Also, avoid using candles in jars which deprive the wick of oxygen and create more soot. Refrain from using candles in jars when the wick is below the level of the top of the jar or when the candle leaves a soot ring on the jar’s lip, as this soot may be an indication of lead dust from a metal wick.

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