Years ago, candles were beyond popular, they were vital. They were a necessity in many households across the world, because they were one of the very few means of providing light indoors. This also made them expensive in certain parts of the world.
Some of the earliest forms of candles were made from materials such as tallow, beeswax, insects wrapped in paper etc.
Climate change has become a hot topic for discussion in recent times, and one of the things candle enthusiasts and aromatherapy lovers want to know is: “Is paraffin wax bad for the environment?”
WHAT IS PARAFFIN WAX?
Paraffin wax is a type of candle wax that is much different from a lot of other forms of waxes, by virtue of its source. Most of the other types of candle waxes are formed from either natural materials, or materials gotten from them. For instance, tallow candles are derived from boiled down wax, obtained from the carcasses of slaughtered cows and other livestock. Beeswax is gotten from beeswax and soy wax is derived from soy.
Paraffin wax, on the other hand, is derived from petroleum by-products, which means it is synthetic in nature. One of the major consequences of this is the fact that the gases emitted by paraffin wax candles tend to be more harmful to the environment compared to other kinds of candles’ emissions.
Paraffin wax was first invented in the 19th century, and when it became a commercial product, it earned a lot of popularity because it was much cheaper than other forms of wax materials (e.g. tallow and beeswax). Another reason for its widespread popularity is the fact that paraffin wax is easier to work with and mass produce, compared to most of the other wax materials. It also doesn’t produce any unpleasant odors or aromas, compared to other types of waxes (tallow wax, for example, emits the smell of burning fat when candles made with it are lit. This is an effect of its raw material. Beeswax, on the other hand, releases a subtle pleasant scent, that makes it highly desirable).
In the aftermath of the commercialization of paraffin wax, candle makers made a lot more candles at notably cheaper rates; and one could describe this period as the golden era of candles. However, the invention of the electric light bulb brought all of that to an end…at least, for a time.
WHAT GASES DOES PARAFFIN WAX EMIT?
Benzene is a chemical that is usually colorless when it is at room temperature. It is higly flammable and has a tendency to evaporate quickly into the air. However, it is slightly heavier than air, and when placed on top of water, it will float.
When benzene gets into the human body in large quantities, due to heavy exposure or build up over time, it has a negative effect; of not allowing the body cells work the way they are supposed to. If it affects the bone marrow, for instance, it can lead to a situation where sufficient red blood cells are not being produced and this may lead to anemia. Symptoms of benzene exposure include; dizziness, tremors, headaches, confusion, drowsiness, irregular or rapid heartbeat and in extreme cases, death. It may also cause irritation to the eyes or skin, irregular menstrual cycles and reduction in ovary size, in certain concentrations.
While very little quantities of benzenes are produced by the burning of paraffin wax candles, this emission is still a point of concern, due to the significant damage it can cause on the human body in large quantities (particularly over a long period of time).
Acetone is a chemical solvent that is colorless in nature. It is usually used to dissolve or break down other substances such as nail polish, paint etc. This substance (i.e. acetone) occurs naturally in nature however, it can have adverse effects on the human body. It is a flammable substance that can cause headache, cough, irritation, sore throat and dizziness in large quantities. It may also lead to poisoning, when consumed in very large amounts.
Paraffin wax candles emit small quantities of acetone, which means that people who are particularly sensitive to acetone may be allergic. It also means that candles should be burned in properly ventilated areas, to avoid large intake of acetone (special care should especially be take around children, as they may be more susceptible to acetone poisoning than adults).
Toluene is a substance emitted, in small quantities, by the burning of paraffin wax candles. It is colorless, and it is usually derived from crude oil. Some of the effects it usually has on human health include the following: headaches, dizziness, nausea, insomnia, fatigue etc. Exposure to toluene can also be detrimental to the central nervous system, and it may also lead to cancer, kidney damage and respiratory issues among other ailments.
Now, paraffin wax releases very little quantities of toluene, however, this may become a point of concern when too many candles are burned in a poorly ventilated room, over a long period of time.
Formaldehyde is a known carcinogenic, which means it is a substance that can be responsible for causing cancer, upon exposure in large quantities (especially over a long period of time). It is one of the chemical components that is given off in small quantities, when paraffin wax is burned.
IS PARAFFIN WAX BAD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT?
One important thing to note, when it comes to answering this question (i.e. “Is paraffin wax bad for the environment?”) is the fact that all of the harmful materials given off as emission, occur in very small quantities. They do become very dangerous when inhaled in large quantities, over a long period of time; particularly in spaces with improper ventilation. These substances may also be particularly dangerous when people who are allergic or sensitive to them come in contact with them.
So, because paraffin wax may have cumulative effects that are adverse to the environment, the simplest answer would be; “Yes. Paraffin wax is indeed bad for the environment.”