Churchgoing may be hazardous to your health

Discover Magazine notes an article from the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health PubMed.gov on particle mass during the burning of incense:

Particle mass and number measurements in a church indicate significant increases of indoor particle concentrations during the burning of incense. Generally, varying concentration regimes can be attributed to different “modes of indoor activity” and emission sources.

While periods of candle burning are negligible concerning particle concentrations, increases by a factor of 6.9 and 9.1 during incense burning were observed for PM10 and PM1, respectively. At maximum, indoor PM10 shows an 8.1-fold increase in comparison to outdoor measurements. The increase of particles < 2 microm is significantly enhanced in comparison to larger particles. Due to a particle decay rate of 0.9 h(-1) post-service concentrations are elevated for a time span of approximately 24 h above indoor background concentrations.

Comments (16)

Then I'll just say that my suffering is for the sake of Christ.

This is a bunch of low church nonsense. I prefer to worship with incense and seek out churches where it is used. Sunday Mass without incense is very depressing for me.

The have also determined that sermons lasting longer than 14 minutes abet global warming and asphyxiate up to 13% of all parishioners for short periods of time resulting in lethargy and even sleep.

I'm not sure this really says anything conclusive. This is the same thing which the CDC and various other health organizations labelled as "inconclusive" on the issue of actual health concerns. It's somewhat of a shame to see scare titles being used by Discover!

I have severe allergies, use incense daily in my small oratory, and am fine. Daily. Proven, medically-confirmed severe allergies. I can see where this would affect those suffering emphysema, the particulate matter might have an effect on those severely allergic to particular ingredients.

I admit being personally affected by this, as I've had a family member use this "argument" to manipulate an entire parish to his view of what constitutes proper, protestant worship.

Low church nonesense, indeed.

At our church, we don't burn incense because people have complained of discomfort. When did people become so prissy? Burning incense is a part of many religions and goes back thousands of years.
We use all our senses when we eat; we should use all our senses when we worship.

Cheap incense is the worst-- get a good high quality variety -- we warn people so they are not surprised. Life is full of risks - this one I will take.

I'd be interested to see if there is a correlation between people who complain about incense and people who intinct at communion because they don't want to get "germs" (thereby putting the germs on their fingers into the chalice for the rest of us to drink).

I recommend pure frankincense, available at many herbal supply shops online and much cheaper than the pricey blends from church suppliers.

Has anyone done a study comparing prevalence of respiratory ailments between high and low churches? Now that might be interesting, though one might need to adjust for the self-selection of people irritated by incense choosing not to attend... Ah, science!

Everytime I sacrifice a bull or a turtle dove on my Tappen, I offer a bit of incense. God likes the odor and I like the meat. Both God and I are still around though his chances with the incense are probably better than mine with the meat.

I have not tried to verify this experimentally, but I read somewhere that the respiratory problems some people have (and others claim to have!) with incense is due not to the incense itself but to the use of self-lighting charcoal, which, as all we onetime-thurifers know, is pretty nasty stuff. I remember a parish back in the Olden Days that used a gas ring in the sacristy to light pieces of pure charcoal. Practically no odor, except from the incense itself.

(Paige may have nailed the real issue here!)

And then there was the day that Tallulah Bankhead visited St. Mary the Virgin in New York -- but that's another story for another time.

I will agree on the need for good quality incense. This is true both of the granular "burn-on-charcoal" type and the stick/cone type. Buy from recognized companies and don't go for cheap. Larger spaces can use more, obviously, with less impact, so expense might be a valid concern there.

I will also add that most of the times I've ever felt an itchy nose or clogged sinuses was 1)being around the self-lighting charcoal - brand name Self-Lite(Three Kings brand has never irritated me) 2) with incense that, not necessarily cheap, is rather unpleasant - I think it's called Abbatial Blend, and I can't remember the manufacturer, but it is bitter and unpleasant and choky.

The two best brands I've found, personally, are:

Monastery Incense (preferred, but expensive)

Holy Cross Monastery's brand of incense (Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, NY - a TEC order).

I am an asthmatic. I sing countertenor and served as a chorister in high churches for years. Lately I have been thurifer every Sunday. Incense does NOT bother my asthma AT ALL (but tobacco smoke surely does). Let's call a spade a spade. The people who oppose incense are by and large prots. Never mind that the Bible, which they profess to follow, MANDATES incense in worship - See Exodus 30:1-10 and Malachi 1:11. Incense pleases God. See Revelations 8:4. Worship is not just about us. I think what God likes should be taken into account. Lastly: good things happen when you offer incense. See Luke 1:8-10.

David-- I was raised a low church Episcopalian and find your language about "prots" insulting and offensive. Bashing me with Bible is not helpful to discussion.

Although I was raised low church, I went to grad school in the Baretta Belt where I was exposed to a lot if incense. My wife grew up in the Roman Catholic church, where she was exposed to incense on high holy days. Neither of us had any problems until we moved to Albuquerque. There, we actually left one church because of athsmatic reactions to the incense. We had a similar reaction on Christmas Eve service at our new church.

I am not privy to the procedures used in any of these churches, but I suspect the choice of incense makes a difference, as does the quantity and other factors. Rather than engaging in ad hominem attacks, I would prefer some practical advice which would help neophytes in picking out and lighting incense.

Thanks Paul -- I do think part of the problem is as stated above - the charcoal - self lighting is not all good. The other is the quality of the incense.

One of the problems with regular charcoal (not self lighting) is that it is both expensive and difficult to find - at least here. What I've found is bamboo charcoal, used in Japanese incense ceremonies - wonderful, as it is specifically designed to eliminate odors from the charcoal, but $8 for twelve is steep, and comes in small tablet forms.

Bill Moorhead, do you mean charcoal, as used in home heating?

Again, Three Kings brand is the self-lighting that I've had the least difficulty with, and, with any self-lighting charcoal, you need to light it outside - or, at least, outside the worship area.

I tend to concur on self-lighting charcoal as "culprit," as it necessarily produces chemicals such as formaldehyde in combustion.

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