Thursday, February 1, 2018

candle studies: 28,304 negative ions [beeswax + negative ions, final (ha ha) cut] and a message from the ALA

I feel like a movie director who has bellowed “Cut!” and “That’s a wrap!” and everyone’s relaxing, smiling, chatting, wiping sweat from their brow, snapping off lights, rolling back cameras, then a script girl or continuity person or somesuch meekly but firmly pulls on my sleeve and says, “Uh, excuse me, ma’am, but we forgot a scene … ? The one with the doctor, the nuns, the entomologist and writer? That research study in Japan? It comes just before the scene with the 101,276 negative ions dancing on a pin head, grabbing wayward positive ions from the air, spinning them around, doing flips, while another 72,972 negative ions dance on another pin head … ?”

This graphic respectfully stolen from a science class slideshow.

You see, one of the beeswax candle companies I contacted in reference to negative ions got back to me (see Update at end of previous post), steering me toward an article by Dr. Jonathan Wright that refers to a study done in Japan at the behest of a friend of Dr. Wright. Dr. Wright had mentioned to this friend something that beeswax-candle-making nuns had mentioned to him which was, essentially, that beeswax candles emit negative ions that clean the air and therefore beeswax candles are good for asthma and allergy sufferers. Dr. Wright is the founder and director of the Tahoma Clinic near Seattle. I contacted the clinic and was sent this image of the article.


According to the article, the study done in Japan showed that both paraffin and beeswax candles emit negative ions while burning. Paraffin emits an average of 72,972 negative ion particles per cc of air while beeswax emits 101,276. So beeswax candles emit 28,304 more negative ions per cc of air than do paraffin candles.

Dr. Wright considered this “‘hard evidence’” for promoting beeswax candles as air purifiers, though he did, for some reason, put “hard evidence” in quotes. But if 72,972 negative ion particles have no effect on the surrounding air—for no one is allowing that paraffin candles clean the air to any degree—how can a mere 28,304 negative ion particles have an effect? That is the number that makes the difference between paraffin and beeswax. But how can they make a difference? True, they are 28,304 additional negative ions, but, so what? If the first 72,972 have no effect, what makes the 28,304 additional so effective? It doesn’t make sense to me that 72,972 negative ions are meaningless while 28,304 make all the difference.

Unless, of course, you start qualifying the substances from which the negative ions fly, though I am not sure why that would make a difference, and the Japan study did not measure any other emissions from the candles, but, nonetheless, these emissions, whatever they are, do seem to be part of the negative ion equation. Since paraffin is polluting and beeswax is not, beeswax’s negative ions are deemed superior, more efficient, I suppose, to paraffin’s. (In regards to “air pollution caused by paraffin,” Dr. Wright refers us to an earlier article he wrote. The article also tells the story of when he first met the nuns.) But, what if paraffin were not an air pollutant? What if paraffin were, as one candle emissions study concludes, as innocuous as beeswax?* What if paraffin and beeswax's negative ions were compared on an even playing field? Now what are those 28,304 negative ions worth?

Why do people insist that it is negative ions that give beeswax its distinct advantage over other candle waxes? Especially when it has been shown that other candles also emit negative ions. I mean, what if, as so many claim, beeswax candles are doing something magical, something special, something no other wax can do? And what if it has nothing to do with negative ions? Everyone stops at “negative ions” as if they are the be all and end all to all that is good. Other possibilities? Not even considered. But what if it’s the pollen? What if it’s that one thing no other wax has? Pollen. Now what paraffin candle can hold a candle to beeswax’s golden, sweet, natural pollen?

Meanwhile, I began noticing this statement on several beeswax-promoting, paraffin-bashing websites: “The American Lung Association has warned consumers about the danger of unhealthy air quality from burning paraffin candles.” There are many articles about indoor air quality on the American Lung Association’s website—not one of them warns about paraffin. They do warn about scented candles and other products with added fragrance, as well as many other things. When I contacted the Association to be clear on their views, they responded quickly.
[T]hat reference is at least a decade old and, unfortunately, keeps popping up occasionally. We’re sorry for the confusion. We do not draw distinctions between the wax or composition of the candles people use. The big issue isn’t that—it’s the burning of the wick and the particles that produces. Scented products can be problems for people regardless of whether you burn them or not. Our recommendation is to limit use of any candles due to the particles they produce when burning. Regardless of the composition of the candle’s wax, burning candles can add to the fine particles in the air you breathe, some of which you can see in the smoke trails.
As for the entomologist and writer, on that note I will have to leave us all hanging. He was being quoted on a lot of websites, too, but when it came time for his close-up, he bugged-out.

* “Determining and Evaluating the Emissions of PCDD/PCDF, PAH and Short-Chain Aldehydes in Combustion Gases of Candles.”