Dear EarthTalk: I just read an article that said air fresheners contain chemicals that can cause health problems when inhaled. Are scented candles any better?
—Leanne Chacksfield, Cincinnati, OH
Like most air fresheners, many scented candles contain and release phthalates, potentially harmful chemicals that have been linked to the disruption of hormonal systems and other health problems in people exposed to them. Burning candles can also emit small amounts of acetaldehyde, formaldehyde and naphthalene, organic chemicals that are also potentially harmful and that can leave nasty black soot deposits on floors and other surfaces.
According to Pamela Lundquist of the nonprofit Children”s Health Environmental Coalition (CHEC), this black soot deposit “is primarily made up of elemental carbon, but may also contain phthalates and volatile organic compounds like benzene and toluene, which can cause cancer and neurological damage.”
Children can easily ingest these chemicals if their hands have been wandering and end up in their mouths. The chemicals can lodge deep in the lungs, disrupting the lower respiratory tract, exacerbating existing problems like asthma, and potentially causing other longer term breathing problems.