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The truth about regular, paraffin candles

Some facts about the candles that we burn and the air that we breathe....

How paraffin candles are made

Paraffin candles begin at the bottom of an oil barrel; in fact they start as the grayish-black sludge that has been rejected by the oil and gas industry.  This petroleum by-product is then bleached with 100% industrial strength bleach, creating toxic dioxins, and changing the colour to its pleasant whiteness (the bleach you use for laundry – even at full strength – is only at 10%).  Acrolyn, a known carcinogenic chemical, is then added to form the white sludge into solid white blocks.  Although the industry claims this substance is inert, once burned, paraffin releases carcinogenic toxins such as benzene and toluene into the air, where they loiter like a bad house guest.  Other chemicals are added to make paraffin burn a little longer and look a little prettier.  Paraffin blocks are then sold to companies who may add various other chemicals to texturize, artificial dyes for colour and/or synthetic fragrances to create those great candle smells.

Unfortunately, the end result is a very toxic product.

Burning paraffin fills the air with many of the same toxins found in burning diesel fuel – not to mention the soot that leaves residue on walls, fabrics and ceilings.  An increasing number of indoor air quality scientists are sounding the alarm about the ability of candles to emit pollutants like benzene, styrene, toluene, acetone and particulate matter and when soot is airborne, these chemicals are subject to inhalation.  Airborne particles can potentially penetrate the deepest areas of the lungs, the lower respiratory tract and alveoli (Krause, 1999). This problem is so severe that North America ’s largest indoor air quality conference recently presented research on the effects of black soot from paraffin candles.

Believe it or not, scented candles are a major source of candle soot deposition. Most candle wax paraffins are saturated hydrocarbons that are solid at room temperature and most fragrance oils are unsaturated hydrocarbons and are liquid at room temperature. The lower the carbon-to-hydrogen ratio, the less soot is produced by the flame. Therefore, waxes that have more fragrances in them produce more soot. In other words, candles labeled "super scented" are more likely to generate soot.

Metal core wicks

If that isn’t enough, the candle industry uses metal core wicks to keep the wick standing straight while the surrounding wax melts.  These metal cores were initially made of lead and lead wick cores have the potential to generate indoor airborne lead concentrations of health concern.  In 1974 the
US candle manufacturing industry recognized this potential health concern and voluntarily agreed to cease the production of lead contaminated candles (yay!).  However, lead wicks are still found in the market, especially in imported candles – so it is possible for the consumer to unknowingly purchase candles containing lead wick cores and repeatedly expose themselves to harmful amounts of lead through candle burning.  The EPA has stated that indoor air quality is 3X more polluted than outdoor air quality and a 2000 study found that there is an increase in lead concentrations in our indoor air (Sobel et al., 2000b).

Buyer Beware!

Not all soy candles are created equally - make sure your soy candle is made from 100% soy beans.  Companies can claim that they are selling ‘soy candles’ if they contain as little as 20% soy. There is also a range of soy waxes on the market, which include those that are mixed - by either the candle maker or the manufacturer (sometimes unbeknownst to the candle maker and the retailer) - with paraffin or beeswax.  This is sold as a 'Soy Blend' candle and may have all of the harmful qualities that you are trying to avoid.

So now that you have the information, the choices are yours.  You should know that there are safe, healthy, environmentally friendly alternatives.  So don’t despair, if this information changes your views, you can still enjoy candles!

Get to know your candle maker/supplier and make sure that they use only 100% Soy in your candles!

*Taken from an article from babybellies.ca (Written by Tara Taylor)

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