Candles are not harmless
Q: My wife likes to burn candles after the house is sprayed with pesticides. She says the fumes will help negate the pesticides. Is this true?
J.H., Los Lunas
A: No, not at all. Candles are anything but harmless. Candle manufacturers, unlike the pesticide people, aren’t required to list or disclose any hazardous, toxic or carcinogenic compounds used in their products, nor are they required to put warning labels on them regarding the emissions. There are three different kinds of hazardous candles; paraffin candles, scented candles and gel candles.
Paraffin is a derivative of refined crude oil and inhaling the fumes from these types of candles is akin to inhaling the fumes from burning diesel fuel. Paraffin is cheap and readily available and the oil industries make an additional healthy profit from its use in candles, cosmetics and even food.
When you burn paraffin candles you are exposing yourself to inflammatory agents, carcinogens and other toxic compounds, thus increasing your risk of getting cancer, neurological disorders and acute aggravation of existing respiratory problems such as asthma. These chemical emissions from the candles can linger for up to 10 hours in homes after the candle is extinguished. Occasionally paraffin candles are scented. They have to use petroleum-based fragrances that are compatible with the paraffin as natural essential oils are broken down by the petrochemical rich wax. These scented additives cause more soot and chemicals to be released from the burning candle.
Because of the popularity of aromatherapy, candlemakers are using increased amounts of artificial fragrance oils in their wax. Some of the scented candles have been found to emit acetone, benzene, carbon disulfide, trichloroethane, carbon tetrachloride, xylene, cresol, lead, carbon monoxide and others. All of these chemicals are potentially toxic.
Gel candles are made from the same petrochemicals as paraffin candles with the same artificial fragrances added. These candles are poured into glass containers. You can suffer the same hazards from burning gel candles as you can from paraffin candles, but with an added danger. Occasionally the glass containers will explode causing fires or serious burns to anyone nearby.
About 30 percent of all candles are fitted with lead wicks. Even though the manufacturers have voluntarily ceased using them, it is not mandated by law and they still show up. Lead levels above EPA recommendations can result from burning these types of candles. As a matter of fact, the EPA says, “Burning several candles at a time increases your risk for cancer.” Additionally the Lung Association says, “Refrain from burning scented candles.”
Beeswax candles are safe. They are non-toxic, non-allergenic and have a honey-sweet aroma. Not only do beeswax candles leave our air fresher, they burn brighter, hotter and much longer than chemical candles. If you buy beeswax candles, make sure they are 100% beeswax. Some manufacturers will add paraffin to beeswax and claim they are safe.
Soy wax is also non-toxic and is not at all carcinogenic, and they also burn longer and cleaner than the chemical candles. These candles are soot-free and won’t discolor your walls as the other candles often do. As with beeswax, you have to be careful. Make sure they are 100 percent soy wax before buying them. Soy candles that are 100 percent soy wax melt like oil so have to be sold in containers and not as standalone votives.
Q: I heard of a family killed by something called fumitoxin. What is it and is it legal to use?
A: Fumitoxin is aluminum phosphide and it is legal to use in New Mexico. Two children were killed by it in Utah when an exterminator used aluminum phosphide in their yard to kill voles, so it is not a safe pesticide. You don’t even have to have a fumigation license in New Mexico to use this deadly gas. All you need is a vertebrate animal license. In other words, if you can set a mouse trap in New Mexico, you can use this deadly gas. Several years ago someone who isn’t even in the pest control industry was using this product to kill prairie dogs in the Sandia Mountains. He apparently got it from an exterminator who either gave it to him or sold it (illegally) to him.
Several years ago a pest control company used this gas to kill prairie dogs near a church in Los Lunas. Not only will the gas kill prairie dogs in the burrows but it will kill anything else including burrowing owls or black-footed ferrets, both of which are protected. Not to mention the hazard to the people in the church.
Personally I would like to see the governor issue an executive order removing the use of all fumigants from being used in New Mexico as they are all health hazards or they are greenhouse gases (sulfuryl fluoride).