Cancer risk of incense beats tobacco
Incense, the sweet-smelling smoke that accompanies the rituals of Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists and hippies, could be even worse for your health than tobacco, according to research from Taiwan.
Levels of one chemical in the smoke, linked with lung cancer, were found to be 40 times higher in a badly ventilated temple than in the houses of habitual smokers. The fumes from burning joss sticks also created more pollution than road traffic, New Scientist reports today.
Ta Chang Lin of the National Cheng Kung University, in Tainan City, collected air samples from inside and outside a local temple and compared them with samples from a road junction.
The temple air held very large concentrations of a highly carcinogenic group of chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are normally released by burning. These were 19 times higher inside the temple than just outside it, and slightly higher than at the road junction.
Levels of one PAH, called benzopyrene, were 45 times higher in the temple than in the homes of smokers, and 118 times higher than in homes where no one smoked and no one lit fires. Tiny, suspended particles of soot were also three times more numerous in the temple than on the road.
Dr Lin said: "During big ceremonies hundreds or even thousands of sticks are burnt at the same time. Sometimes the visibility is so low you can't clearly see across the room. We are concerned for the health of workers and keepers in the temples.
"We truly hope that incense burning brings only spiritual comfort, without any physical discomfort. But there is a potential cancer risk. We just cannot say how serious it is."