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Candes & Carcinogens


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I wasn't quite sure where to post this, but thought it was interesting....

No more candles? Church air poses risks -

Smoke and incense contain dangerous carcinogens, study findsUpdated: 10:02 a.m. ET Nov. 22, 2004AMSTERDAM - A visit to church may be good for the soul but not so good for the lungs, a new study shows.

Scientists from Maastricht University found that burning candles and incense in church can release dangerous levels of potentially carcinogenic particles, according to research published this week in the European Respiratory Journal.

“After a day of candle burning we found about 20 times as much as by a busy road,” Theo de Kok, the author of the study, told Reuters.

“These levels were so unbelievably high we thought we should report it to the public.”

The air at a Maastricht basilica contained 20 times the European Union limit of PM10 particles after a simulated mass ceremony. Tiny PM10 particles can be inhaled and are therefore a potential hazard.

Worrisome for church workers

The scientists also found high levels of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons as well as some unknown types of free radicals released from burning candles and incense. Free radical atoms act as starters and promoters of cancer tumours.

“The exposures are worrisome, not so much for the occasional church goer, but priests, choirs and other people working in churches may have significant exposure,” he said.

De Kok said priests at the church in Maastricht had tried to improve ventilation after the study. He also noted some churches had stopped using real candles to protect artwork and delicate interiors.

“It could be an alternative to use fewer candles, better candles, use electric candles or improve ventilation,” he said.

De Kok called for research into whether priests, monks and others who work in churches were more prone to lung disease.

“Particle pollution, whether it be in an outdoor or indoor environment, can be a danger to lung health and cause respiratory diseases such as emphysema and bronchitis,” said Richard Russell of the British Thoracic Society (BTS).

Copyright 2004 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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I would assume that ANY candles burned in large quantity in closed areas would be bad for you.

I had this conversation w/ someone recently and found an article about it -- let me see if I can find it to post!

Here it is:

I did a search on "American Lung Association" and "Burning Candles" and came up with all sorts of stuff.

Here is one link: http://web.ksl.com/dump/news/cc/candles.htm

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Thanks, Hebbie! So the ones you REALLY have to stay away from are those with the lead wicks... and to be safe, I'm going to forget anything that's not clearly just a cotton wick. And I guess those scented candles I like so much are not good, either. @#&*()@$~! Oh well, I do have some beeswax candles I rolled myself, using cotton wicks. They'll do just fine! Thanks again for the info.


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Another slam against religion? I don't really think so, I have had a crash course on Catholocism in the last few years and sat through a few midnight Christmas masses and the other "High Holy Days" where the incense are broken out and the smoke/scent waft throughout the church for that wonderful feeling of "holiness" invading the sense of smell, as well. What have I noticed lately? A massive hacking fit even when I sit further back from all the aromas.

Also, note that the article stated it was more of an issue for priests, choirs, etc., people who spend more time in the church than those attending every Sunday or the "lambs" who attend for the big red letter days (i.e. Christmas and Easter). There were also suggestions given, for different candles or electric lights, how can it be a "slam" on religion?

I enjoy the Christmas midnight mass and "ringing in" the season, but I don't think the experience would be much different without the incense so I can hear more of the sermon instead of the sound of my hacking...

If I can "taste" the scent, it's too strong.

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I know that some studies were done previously on types of wicks... I don't know what the new reports are saying as to wick particles vs. wax particles BUT I do know that scented candles and incense can be irritating either way.

It is most certainly not a slam on religion. I LOVE candles and my religion actually embraces (requires) candle lighting. My daughter has asthma and I have lung cancer. Excessive scented candles and incense are bad for lung conditions - how is that a slam on religion???? It may also be bad to be around too many candles at once in a closed building -- okay... so we improve ventilation or change types of candles, or procedures but what matters is our relationship with our religion.

My daughter asked me why I light a candle at times (now a tiny tea light in my large living room so her lungs don't get irritated) when I am praying extra hard for people. I told her I felt like it called Gods attention to my prayers. The truth is it just gives me one more thing I can do to feel less helpless. My prayers are my prayers either way.

My lungs are irritated around smoke and incense - that is truly a fact - not an anitreligious conspiracy.

I do hope they find out whether there is a way they can honor the beautiful tradition of lighting a candle in church without endangering the church workers or worshipers. There is something so comforting about that tradition and about knowing a candle is being lit for you. Perhaps they can clarify the reearch.

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I'd be willing to bet that beeswax candles with plain cotton wicks would be fine. They don't really have a "scent," but I think they smell good -- they make me think of the bees and their natural work when I burn them. Beeswax candles can be expensive in stores, but you can buy sheets of beeswax (the honeycomb-textured ones) and roll them yourself in about 2 minutes -- and then when you burn the candles you have the added joy of knowing you "made" them yourself. Neither the wax nor the wicks are expensive, either. Lighting a candle is a symbol that makes my prayers feel more meaningful, too.


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Wow, thanks for the "heads up" on this one. Humm, where was that article last year when everyone I knew was giving those candle parties? :P I have boxes of candles I never used. Of course when we were without power for several days a few years ago, they did come in handy - that is until my son was trying to wash dishes by candle light and put the candle right under the wood cabinets! :shock: We have a permanent reminder of that one. :x

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I'm burning one called "Bird of Paradise" right now. I find it so relaxing and it really makes the house smell wonderfull- I have four inside dogs :roll: I understand the plugins can catch on fire. What's a girl to do? Aresol sprays really iritate me most. I guess every thing has a health risk these days. Thanks Heather for the heads up. I suppose that candle I just ordered will make a nice Christmas gift. Ha! Wait...I can't give a gift that causes cancer?

Cheryl :cry:

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I never thought of candles being a cause of lung cancer! Churches, especially those old ones are huge, high ceilings, and all the smoke tends to "float " up. I wonder if before stating that it was so dangerous for the priest, and servors if they had gathered any statistics that the incidence of lung cancer was higher in priests that used incense or served in churches that burn candles. When I was growing up, lighting candles to symbol prayers for a loved one, etc, alter candles, incense, was very common. Those priests that are retirement age now , do they suffer with lung cancer in large numbers?

I also think it is interesting that candles are very popular for use in the home now, they are suppose to bring relaxation, mood enhancement etc. They sell them everywhere even the grocery store. Now in our houses, the rooms are smaller, especially most of our bathrooms. If these are emitting all those toxins, even if every one quits smoking but continues "lighting" up candles , in the future we may be in big trouble. Donna G

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Hi Donna,

Thank you for your post. It seems that you and I were the only ones questioning the study. It is interesting that they mentioned church and clergy in their study but offered no statistics to show that priests or church workers have increased incidences of lung disease/cancer. Incense is sold openly in many stores and I hear it is quite popular for teenagers to burn in their rooms(probably with the doors closed). Wouldn't it seem more risky to burn incense in a 12X12 enclosed room than in a large open church during Sunday mass. The same goes with candle burning. I just found it quite odd that the article singled out churches. Maybe I would have gotten a different response from the forum had I not mentioned that I heard about it on Rush Limbaugh's show????

Just my 2 cents.


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Incense is sold openly in many stores and I hear it is quite popular for teenagers to burn in their rooms(probably with the doors closed).

Laura Ann,

Burning incense is against the rules in college dormitories, military barracks and the like. The reason? Seems people use incense to cover the odor of marijuana smoke. Open flames were not allowed in my bedroom when I lived at home, due in part to the absent-mindedness that goes with youth. Simply put, my mother didn't want the house to burn down.

Candles burning in the church do not bother my lungs. Incense, on the other hand, about freakin' kill me. I know that you are a caregiver/family member and may not understand how pulmonary irritants can affect a compromised respiratory system. I have work restrictions stating that I have be in a smoke-free environment that is free of other respiratory/pulmonary irritants.

I just found it quite odd that the article singled out churches.

The article did not single out "churches", it listed A church, Maastricht basilica. It was also published in a country other than the U.S. (Amsterdam, the Netherlands). Some churches in Europe are older than the United States, complete with lead paint and other toxins such as black mold. These churches have years of accumulated "stuff" in the walls, ceiling, etc. Maybe that was taken into account in the article, free radicals from centuries of candles and incense OR, given that it was written somewhere else, the age of most churches is a "given" and understood by the group the article was written for.

I did a bit of research, the church in question was built in the 4th century, that would be less than four hundred years after the death of Christ...it ain't a new church and up to OSHA/EPA guidelines! http://www.iht.com/articles/12594.html

...and a picture: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~eby/maas3.jpg

Maybe I would have gotten a different response from the forum had I not mentioned that I heard about it on Rush Limbaugh's show????

Not from me...

Take care,


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I offered up this original post as a way to keep those of us suffering from lung cancer up to date on the latest information out there that could possibly harm us in any way, by irritating our lungs, or putting us at greater risk. (As I spend most of my time doing research on ways to prevent a recurrence)

I was not, in any way, "church bashing" or attempting to imply that going to church was bad. However, since this post seemed offend some, I offer up a different study, that should be found less offensive.


Have a nice holiday.

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I hope you do not think I was accusing you of church bashing, after all you did not write the article. The information is out there, it's everywhere. As I said in an earlier post, do we really know what causes cancer?

Are we going to live our lives in fear of everything we breath, touch or eat causing cancer? Should we use good judgement about certain lifestyles, you betcha. Having said that, when I take my mother to mass on Sunday morning I would rather for her to be at peace and in prayer instead of thinking about candles and incense causing lung cancer.



For Snowflake

I thought this was a forum where all were welcome to express support, opinions and concerns. I really think the ''tone" of your response to my post was uncalled for. So far you have directed your opinion mostly toward me and not the article. I addressed the article period end of sentance.

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