Sometimes, one of the simplest pleasures in life is coming home from a stressful day of work, filling the bathtub with warm water, and lighting an aromatherapy candle with a special scent that—as the label claims—will make you feel calm and relaxed.
Unfortunately, that seemingly harmless candle could be filling the air in your home with carcinogenic soot and lead emissions.
What’s Wrong With Your Candles?
As a result of the United States Environmental Protection Agency Research and Development in the January 2001 article titled, “Candles and Incense as Potential Sources of Indoor Air Pollution: Market Analysis and Literature Review,” most manufacturers in the United States have agreed not to use lead in the wicks of candles. However, 34.8 percent and 13.4 percent of candles imported are from China and Hong Kong respectively where the rules and regulations do not include strict adherence to the same standards as United States candle manufacturers. That is just a nice way of saying that there are many toxic substances in candles imported from China and Hong Kong.
According to the EPA’s research, “Candles with lead wicks have the potential to generate indoor airborne lead concentrations of health concern. It is also possible for consumers to unknowingly purchase candles containing lead wick cores and repeatedly expose themselves to harmful amounts of lead through regular candle-burning.”
They also go on to say that regardless of the lack of lead, burning several candles exceeded the EPA’s standards and posed an increased risk for cancer because of the acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, toluene, benzene and acrolein levels. All those chemicals, along with many others are not healthy or good for our bodies and most especially our lungs.
Paraffin wax candles also produce soot – that black stuff caused from the flickering flame. “When soot is airborne, it is subject to inhalation. The particles can potentially penetrate the deepest areas of the lungs, the lower respiratory tract and alveoli (Krause, 1999).”
Not only are people with asthma more susceptible to the effects of burning paraffin wax candles, but also the elderly and children. Science has proven that a child’s tiny body is negatively affected by chronic low-level lead exposure. Burning paraffin wax candles that contain lead wicks is definitely in the category of low-level lead exposure.
Low-level exposure to lead mainly affects the central nervous system and can cause:
- neurobehavioral changes
- kidney disease
- increased depression
- phobic anxiety symptoms
- mood and personality changes
- changes in sleep patterns
- learning difficulties
- difficulty concentrating
- memory loss
- loss of appetite
- difficulty breathing
Are you looking at those candles sitting on the shelves of your home a little differently now?
Natural Candle Alternatives
There are no rules or bans in the works for paraffin candles and those scented with synthetic oils. In the meantime, you don’t have to give up candles altogether.
• Buy 100 percent beeswax candles with cotton wicks, which are free of toxins. Beeswax can cost as much as six times the price of paraffin, so many candle manufacturers blend paraffin with their beeswax to cut costs. Be sure your candles say 100 percent beeswax on the label.
- Buy candles made from 100 percent vegetable-based waxes, which are also nontoxic. For example, Way Out Wax in Morrisville, Vermont, makes their candles with a combination of vegetable wax and hemp oil wax.• To reduce soot, no matter what kind of wicks are in your candles, trim wicks to 1¼4 inch, and do not burn candles near a draft.
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