Cancer warning over paraffin-based candles

The table is set. Rose petals are scattered. Barry White is playing.

Romantic, perhaps (some would say corny) – but that candlelit dinner may also be releasing cancerous chemicals into the air, scientists have warned.

In a blow to amorous gestures, researchers told the American Chemical Society’s annual meeting in Washington that burning paraffin wax candles – the most common kind – is an unrecognised source of “indoor pollution” that allows carcinogens such as toluene and benzene to build up in unventilated rooms.

People who frequently used candles, to help them relax in the bath, for example, were most at risk. Candle emissions can also irritate the lungs and trigger asthma attacks.

Burning candles does not produce high enough temperatures to combust the heavy molecules contained in paraffin wax completely, the researchers said. This led to the formation and emission of hazardous molecules.

“An occasional paraffin candle and its emissions will not likely affect you,” said Dr Amid Hamidi, from South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, who co-led the study. “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.” His team burned candles in a laboratory, separated the individual elements and identified their atoms by weight.

The scientists suggested switching to candles made from beeswax or soy, which produced no detectable levels of harmful chemicals but nevertheless provided the warmth, ambience and fragrance suitable for courtship.

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