An Answer

From which arise questions and a wish.

Larger image below.
Soon after emailing the Tahoma Clinic, I received via email a digital image of the May 2004 article by Dr. Jonathan V. Wright that reports on a study which provides evidence that both beeswax candles and paraffin candles emit negative ions. According to the article, which is approximately 285 words long, the study was conducted in a laboratory in Japan at the request of a friend of Dr. Wright’s. The study was designed to measure the number of negative ions released by beeswax candles and by paraffin candles. The results showed that a burning beeswax candle emits “101,276 negative ion particles per cc of air” and that a burning paraffin candle emits “an average of 72,972 negative ion particles per cc of air.” (The abbreviation “cc” is not explained, but most often it refers to a cubic centimeter, so I assume that is its usage here.) This study shows, then, that the difference in the number of negative ions released per cubic centimeter of air between a beeswax candle and a paraffin candle is 28,304.

One might just stop there.

But I ask: So what?

When a pound of paraffin cost 37 cents.
Unfortunately, we will have to leave that answer to some other study done somewhere else at some other time as the one done in Japan did not address this issue. Overall, there is a lot this study did not address, or that Dr. Wright omits in his brief article, and when I could find no other reports on the study nor the study itself, I thought of contacting Dr. Wright to ask some questions, but then, no. Dr. Wright’s article begins with the unsubstantiated claim that “paraffin and other candles” pollute the air, and I just saw no need to get into all that.

I was left with questions.

In the article’s one footnote, provided for “the technically inclined,” which, surprisingly, turned out to be me, Dr. Wright explains that in the study the “‘background’ count” of negative ions was measured at 89 per cubic centimeter. What exactly this referred to was unclear to me, but I assumed it was the number of negative ions detected in a cubic centimeter of air in the room, or enclosure, prior to the burning of the test candles. However, the size of the room, or enclosure, is not mentioned. And I wonder: How does this “background” count play into it? If 89 was the count prior to the burning of the candle(s), what was the “background” count after the burning of the candles? Could there conceivably be a “background” count during the burning? Did the overall count of negative ions within the test space rise, stay steady, fluctuate, remain at a higher “background” level after the candle was doused, or did the “background” count immediately drop off? This involves not just space but time—for instance, how many negative ion particles were released per minute? A peak number for each type of candle is mentioned—it is not much higher than the average—but for how long were the candles burned and at what point did they reach their peak? What was the low point? When did it occur? What accounts for the fluctuation? Was there a steady build-up of negative ions being released or a quick release then a drop-off? Was the “background” count different two inches from the flame as opposed to four feet away?

Some of these questions may be stupid, I know, but a lot is left unexplained, like, what about the positive ions? Were they measured? What I have read most often about how negative ions freshen the air is that they do so by latching onto positive ions, thus removing, or neutralizing them. So a key part of testing the hypothesis that beeswax candles emit negative ions, and that these negative ions then clean the air, would be to measure the positive ions “per cc of air” as well as the negative ions. If this were done, what were the results? Did the test candles release positive ions? If so, how many? Surely knowing this would make a difference, tell us a better story, especially if we are trying to gauge how many candles we need to burn for how long in order to cure our asthma or to mitigate allergies.

In the footnote Dr. Wright also informs that the apparatus used to measure the negative ion output was a “KST-900 made by Kobe Electric Wave Company.” Unfortunately, Kobe Electric Wave Company did not come up in a Google search, and a search for “KST-900” brought up Bluetooth headphones.

But yet. As Dr. Wright mentions, the whole reason for this so-called study in Japan came out of his friend wanting to investigate what Dr. Wright had learned about beeswax candles’ air-purifying quality and the link between that quality and negative ions. From whom did Dr. Wright learn this?

On a website called Healthy Naturally Club, I found a different article by Dr. Wright, one that precedes the May 2004 report on the study in Japan, in which he describes a visit to the Tahoma Clinic by some beeswax-candlemaking nuns. “Like many monastic orders,” he writes, “these nuns support themselves and their convent by making and selling products. Their specialty is 100 percent beeswax candles, which, Mother Thecla told me, actually clean the air, helping to reduce the pollutant and allergen load.”

The history of candlemaking and all the rest that Dr. Wright then goes on to relate, as told him by Mother Thecla, is bizarre.
… hundreds of years ago, most candles were made of beeswax. But over the centuries, beeswax candles were gradually replaced by tallow (animal fat) candles, and then in the last century by paraffin candles, which are probably the kind you have in your home right now. It sounds innocent enough, but paraffin is made from the sludge at the bottom of barrels of crude oil, which is then treated and bleached with benzene and other chemical solvents to “clean it up” for use in candles. Paraffin candles put out soot and smoke when you burn them (I thought all candles did that) along with toxins and carcinogens. Since burning petrochemical paraffin smells bad, synthetic fragrance oils are added, many of which are irritating and even toxic themselves when they’re burned. Breathing what paraffin candles give off has been compared to breathing diesel fumes.¶ And, to make matters worse, the soot, smoke, and chemical residue from “regular” candles can stick to walls, ceilings, and ventilation ducts and gets re-circulated whenever the heating/cooling system is in action, exposing you to these pollutants even when the paraffin candles aren’t burning.
This description of paraffin—well, where are the lawsuits? If paraffin were causing harm to people and their property certainly at some point over the past century someone would have sued, brought a claim to court, asked for damages. And if there were anything akin to diesel fumes in your home, well, we know where that reference comes from: the scented candle study that had no other standard by which to compare emissions (see chapter herein: The Emission Studies).

The article, via the nuns, goes on to extol the virtues of beeswax.
But beeswax candles don’t cause any of those problems. In fact, Mother Thecla told me people with allergies, sinus problems, and asthma have reported significant improvement in their symptoms, breathing better and sleeping better after burning the 100 percent beeswax candles in their bedrooms for three to four hours before bedtime. One person who burned a beeswax candle all day when she was home reported that her asthma gradually went away completely.
After hearing this, Dr. Wright set out to see if there were any proof for this clean air pudding and here is what he found: “According to entomologist Bill Reno, burning beeswax produces negative ions.”

That’s it. Bill Reno, an entomologist. So, OK. I tried to find Bill Reno, the entomologist, could not. I did find, however, many websites using his name and status as an entomologist to make it clear and official that beeswax candles produce negative ions that clean the air.

The nuns, on the other hand, were easy to find, and, as fellow candlemakers, I contacted them despite the obvious distance between our beliefs. I’m glad I did, as I ended up having a nice email conversation with Mother Thecla. She reiterated her belief that without a doubt paraffin is smelly and toxic and harmful and beeswax candles clean the air by releasing negative ions, thus relieving allergies and asthma. She has her experience, she has stacks of testimonials, she suggested I stop questioning, she suggested I have a little faith.

So enough with the questions already! Maybe now just a wish. A wish that those who sell beeswax candles would take it on faith that there are enough people out there capable of appreciating beeswax for what it is—a naturally occurring wax delightfully colored and scented by the pollen it absorbs as a matter of course throughout its purposeful life of housing honeybees as well as the honey the bees make, and that can be made into, in its afterlife, a lovely candle—and to stop complicating it with all these cock-a-mamie stories and anecdotes and miracle cures and testimonials and laboratories in Japan and 28,304 negative ions, not to mention a constant, constant bashing of paraffin. And if there are not enough people with a true appreciation of beeswax to sustain a beeswax candle business — well then.

Dr. Wright’s article claiming “the proof is in” ends with a sales pitch: “ … call the Tahoma Clinic Dispensary, which carries beeswax candles homemade by the local nuns who first brought me news of this therapy.”



… then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on …
Herman Melville, Moby Dick


References
Beeswax Benefits – Beat Nagging Allergies and Sinus Problems, Wright, J. V., as reprinted by the Healthy Naturally Club, Oct. 1, 2013.

This page edited 2/11/2019.

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