Recent tests conducted by Su Ta-cheng (蘇大成), head of the department of cardiology at National Taiwan University Hospital, provide more evidence that burning incense contributes to air pollution.
In August last year, Taipei’s Xingtian Temple (行天宮) announced that it would no longer provide censers and tables to visitors.
Working in a personal capacity, Su monitored the density of airborne pollutants measuring less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) at Xingtian Temple and Longshan Temple (龍山寺) last month, he said.
Taking measurements for 40 minutes at each site, he found that PM2.5 density at Longshan was 89 times the level at Xingtian.
PM2.5 particles can penetrate the bronchioles and alveoli in the human respiratory system.
PM2.5 density at Longshan Temple was 1,360 micrograms per cubic meter, while Xingtian Temple’s PM2.5 density was 15.2 micrograms per cubic meter, Su said.
Longshan Temple’s PM2.5 density was also 49 times Taipei’s average PM2.5 density in 2013, which was 27.5 micrograms per cubic meter, Su said.
Studies have found that coal dust, which contributes to PM2.5 pollution, thickens the innermost parts of organs such as the heart and lungs, which can lead to myocardial infarctions or strokes, Su said, adding that the thickening also affects blood pressure.
PM2.5 is listed by the WHO as a class 1 carcinogen, Linkou Chang Gung Memorial Hospital Department of Clinical Toxicology director Yen Tsung-hai (顏宗海) said, adding that sustained inhalation of PM2.5 not only irritates the respiratory tract and leads to lung-related or cardiovascular diseases, but also increases the risk of developing cancer.
Visitors are urged to wear masks when visiting temples and to leave as soon as possible after their prayers, Yen said, adding that people with a history of bronchitis, asthma or cardiovascular diseases should also take care.
Separately, National Taiwan University College of Public Health vice dean Chan Chang-chuan (詹長權) found that a person’s residential environment factors into exposure to air pollution.
Four-lane roads, construction sites or commercial zones within 100m of a residence, industrial zones or train stations within 500m, or expressways within 1km all significantly increase residents’ exposure to air pollution, Chan said.
Conversely, residential areas with natural forests within 500m or rivers within 5km benefit from improved air quality, Chan said, adding that PM2.5 density can be seven times higher in polluted areas.
Homes above the third floor also see a 10 to 20 percent decrease in PM2.5 density, Chan said.
Chan said the average lowest density of nitrogen oxide, ozone and PM2.5 in Taipei on a daily basis is from 4am to 6am, making it the best time for exercise.
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