Why you must avoid burning incense, gold and silver papers to avoid a toxic Chinese New Year
Smoke from the burning of incense as well as gold and silver papers during the Chinese New Year could be harmful to health, research in recent years has shown.
Chinese New Year is one of the most important events on the calendar for Chinese people. It is a festive occasion when they pay their respects to their ancestors and Chinese gods, gather their relatives and hand out red envelopes, or "Ang Pao”, to their children.
As a ritual, they burn incense, as well as gold and silver papers in a symbol of respect to their ancestors and Chinese gods, while praying for prosperity.
According to the Public Health Ministry, smoke from burning incense is as harmful as tobacco or car exhaust, as it contains various toxic substances, such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.
Smoke from burning gold and silver papers releases toxic heavy metal, nickel, lead, manganese and chromium, which the papers are coated with to make them look glossy and valuable.
People who inhale heavy smoke from burning incense could be at risk of cancer due to benzo(a)pyrene, benzene and butadiene.
Thai researchers have found that venues where incense is burned, such as temples, shrines and almshouse, have 63 times more benzo(a)pyrene in the air than at normal places, while officials at temples have a four times higher risk of contracting blood and/or bladder cancer.
Apart from smoke's impact on people's eyes and nose, it also affects the respiratory system, leading to cough, sore throat and difficulty in breathing. In a worst-case scenario, people could even lose consciousness or get lung cancer, the ministry warned.
Meanwhile, smoke from burning gold and silver papers could affect children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with chronic diseases. It could impact brain development in children, causing anaemia, dizziness, convulsion, unconsciousness, kidney failure in the elderly, impact foetal development in women, allergies, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart disease.
Separately, the smoke also affects the environment as toxic heavy metal is considered a hazardous toxic substance that needs to be managed systematically to contain their spread in the air, water and foods.
The Nation Thailand would like to advise all devotees and celebrants to exercise caution in burning incense, gold and silver papers, or preferably use electric incense to celebrate the Chinese New Year festival with their families safely.