Danger lurks in heavenly waft of incense - report
By ALAN SAMSON
20 August 2001
The alarm bells are out for New Age meditators and for old hippies - after
a New Scientist report has shown incense to be far more carcinogenic than
The findings drew a pointed response from Green MP and cannabis law reform
campaigner Nandor Tanczos: "I think that it (incense) should be banned and
police given powers to stop and search anyone for it who are wearing orange
However, churches that use it, notably the Catholic Church, said use was so
minimal that any risk to congregations was inconsequential.
Incense had been lit in church sanctuaries "from early days" as an offering
to heaven, but was now used sparingly on special occasions, Catholic
Communications national director Lyndsay Freer said.
"Its use is minimal and is confined to the area around the altar."
Research by the National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan reveals that the
level of an incense chemical believed to cause lung cancer was 40 times
higher in a temple than in places where people smoked tobacco. Air samples
from inside and outside a temple were taken.
Inside, high concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons - a big
group of highly carcinogenic chemicals put into the air when incense is
burned - were found. Total levels of these hydrocarbons were 19 times higher
A hydrocarbon called benzopyrene, thought to cause lung cancer in smokers,
was found inside the temple. The level was up to 45 times higher than in
homes where tobacco was smoked, and up to 118 times higher than in areas
with no indoor combustion, such as cooking fires.
Health Ministry senior drug policy analyst Paul Marriott-Lloyd was not
surprised. The findings emphasised the dangers of second-hand smoke, he
The burning of carbon-based substances gave off the hydrocarbons which were
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