A man stands over a brazier holding a large wooden stick in his hand that he uses to poke and stir the smoldering embers and ashes of spirit money. He burns the paper on the pavement in front of his restaurant beside a residential high-rise building in a densely populated area.
Studies on burning spirit money have identified that the billowing smoke is a potent irritant that contains hazardous substances, such as particulate matter (PM 2.5), heavy metals, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. According to researchers, even low levels of exposure to these air pollutants can cause a number of adverse health effects, such as increased risk of cancer, skin allergies, respiratory ailments, and cardiovascular conditions. Moreover, the acrid smoke is especially harmful for the elderly, children, pregnant women, and people with sensitive respiratory systems.
But reports indicate that concerns may go well beyond the inhalation of carcinogens released during the burning process. The smoke emitted not only contributes to short-term atmospheric pollution, but has also been linked to the contamination of rainwater. This means that burning spirit money can potentially increase the health risk to those exposed both directly and indirectly to higher concentrations of trace elements through their food in the long run.