- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Holy smokes. Grab the fire hose. Somebody notify Al Gore and maybe Ralph Nader. Candle-lit dinners — with the flickering flames, those delicate glows — are an unrecognized source of indoor air pollution. Really. The American Chemical Society announced Wednesday that “emission products of petroleum-based candles in nonventilated enclosed areas” are potential health hazards. Paraffin wax candles produce evocative ambience — and known human carcinogens, too.

“An occasional paraffin candle and its emissions will not likely affect you. But lighting many paraffin candles every day for years or lighting them frequently in an un-ventilated bathroom around a tub, for example, may cause problems,” said Ruhullah Massoudi, a chemistry professor at South Carolina State University who analyzed the airborne byproducts of burning candles.

He also suggested that some people who suffer from an indoor allergies or respiratory irritations might in fact be reacting to air pollutants from burning candles. Candles made from beeswax or soy, though more pricey, are “apparently are healthier,” Mr. Massoudi adds. He presented his findings during the society’s annual meeting in Washington.

The eco-minded now have a new source of guilt. The green police have a new target, and hypochondriacs might balk at romantic suppers. The study also could have profound repercussions, perhaps, on politicians with romantic trysts on their minds, or journalists intent on wooing sources.

Or not.

“Well, this is interesting. But I counter that science with more science. Candles also produce negative ions, and negative ions are associated with a sense of well-being and happiness. Negative ions, positive vibes,” said Philip Gates, general manager of Charlie Palmer Steak, a lush and sophisticated eatery within a block of the U.S. Capitol.

The candles at Charlie Palmer are low on the tables, snug in spring-loaded stainless-steel holders with steel mesh tops.

“They’re not going anywhere. And you can’t really see the actual candles anyway,” Mr. Gates says.

• Jennifer Harper can be reached at jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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