A new study receiving lots of attention this week has shown that burning common paraffin wax based candles releases potentially harmful pollutants.

Scientists from South Carolina State University burned candles in a special chamber so as to monitor the contents of the smoke, and found that benzene, toluene and ketones where present.

Benzene has been linked to bone marrow failure disorders like aplastic anemia, myelodysplastic syndromes, and acute lymphocytic leukemia. Toluene and ketones are associated with asthma and birth defects.

Researcher and study co-author Amid Hamidi:

"Each time a candle is burned, if it is paraffin, which is basically petroleum-based, it provides really nasty chemicals in the emissions."

How worried should we be? Hamidi clarifies:

"Candles are so widespread, an occasional paraffin candle and its emissions will not likely affect you. But lighting many paraffin candles every day for years or lighting them frequently in an unventilated bathroom around a tub, for example, may cause problems."

The researchers also looked at emissions from vegetable and beeswax based candles.


"Although more expensive, apparently [they] are healthier. They do not release potentially harmful amounts of indoor air pollutants while retaining all of the warmth, ambiance and fragrance of paraffin candles (which are made from petroleum).

OK, here’s the grain of salt. The study was funded by a grant tilted "Soybean Candles for a healthy Life and well Being."

As you might imagine the National Candle Association does not agree with this study, and points to a German study it funded which found that paraffin based wax candles are safe.

Barbara Miller, spokesperson for the National Candle Association:

“all candles burn about the same way … When you burn a candle properly, you should get carbon dioxide and water vapor.”

Burn a candle properly? How many ways are there to burn one?

Lets be clear, benzene is a natural byproduct of combustion, if you chose to burn anything at all inside your house, your indoor benzene levels will go up.

There’s no doubt in my mind that burning paraffin candles is less healthy than burning "natural wax" candles. I would have told you that well before this study, which is just more fodder in the ongoing battle between "conventional" and "natural" products. 


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