PARIS, Aug 1 (AFP)--Burning incense could cause cancer according to a scientific study conducted by researchers from Taiwan, who found high levels of carcinogens in the smoke of incense burned in Buddhist temples.

"We truly hope that incense burning brings only spiritual comfort, without any physical discomfort, but there is a potential cancer risk," Ta Chang Lin, who led the study, says in the report.

"We just cannot say how serious" the risk is, he adds in the study, which appears in the latest edition of New Scientist magazine.

The team from Taiwan's Cheng Kung university analyzed smoke from a Taipei temple and found that it contained high levels of chemical compounds blamed for causing lung cancer and that levels of pollutants were higher than would normally be expected at a city road junction.

Comparing air samples from the temple with those from the traffic intersection, the researchers found the temple air to contain high concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

The highly carcinogenic compounds are given off when certain substances, including tobacco, are burned.

Air analysis revealed levels of PAHs inside the temple to be 19 times higher than in normal outside air, and slightly above the concentration found at a traffic intersection.

In particular, researchers found levels of benzopyrene--a particularly carcinogenic compound--to be 45 times higher than in a household with cigarette smokers and 118 times above houses with no source of combustion, such as a cooker.

"During some major ceremonies, hundreds or even more than a thousand sticks are burnt at the same time," the report said, adding "sometimes the visibility is so low you can't see clearly across the room."

"We are concerned for the health of workers or keepers in the temples," the report's authors said.

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