CFL Analysis – Health & Wellbeing

Before the EU decision to phase out the bulb, SCENIHR, the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks, made a review of available studies, evaluating possible health risks before the ban. Their Report on Light Sensitivity did find (varying degrees of) evidence of negative impact of CFL (or FL, as there are few studies on actual CFLs and health) on some patient groups:

• Retinal diseases
“Blue light may be harmful to those with retinal diseases [Evidence level B]. There is also some evidence that prolonged exposure to blue light may reduce the colour sensitivity of the intact retina [Evidence level B].”

• Snow-Blindness & Cataract
“Fluorescent light does not cause snow-blindness [Evidence level B] or cataract [Evidence level C]. This holds true for CFL, provided that UVC and UVB radiations are adequately filtered out

• Migraine
“Migraine can be induced by flicker in general (up to about 50 Hz) and patients are light sensitive during and between attacks [Evidence level A]. Scientific support for aggravating symptoms by flicker from fluorescent tubes was not found [Evidence level D]. There is anecdotal evidence of problems with blue light [Evidence level D].”

• Photophobia
“Photophobia is eye discomfort in bright light, which occurs in many diseases including migraine. Photophobia is a symptom most often associated with pathological eye conditions such as cataracts, corneal damage, burns, infections, inflammation, injury, retinal detachment, etc. People with lighter-coloured eyes and albinism often suffer from photophobia. Any effect of flicker, blue light and fluorescent tubes has not been investigated, but cannot be ruled out [Evidence level C].”

• Irlen-Meares/Dyslexia
“It is has been shown that dyslexics and Irlen-Meares patients tend to have difficulties detecting flicker. Therefore, flicker from fluorescent tubes should not be a problem [Evidence level A]. There are self-reported indications that the condition is aggravated by mainly UV and blue light [Evidence level D].”

• Autism/Aspergers Syndrome
“There is no evidence showing negative effects of fluorescence light on autistic behavior, however, an influence cannot be excluded [Evidence level D]. People with Autism/Aspergers syndrome have reported problems which they attributed to fluorescent lighting.”

• Electromagnetic Sensitivity
“It is unlikely that any EMF emitted from CFL or other fluorescent lamps would contribute to electromagnetic hypersensitivity [Evidence level A]. However, any possible health problems related to flicker and UV/blue light emission are minimized, if CFL are equipped with functional high-frequency electronic ballasts, double envelopes and adequate coating.

• Polymorphic Light Eruption
“It is possible that in the most severely affected, CFL could produce the eruption [Evidence level C].”

• Chronic Actinic Dermatitis
“Degree of photosensitivity suggests there may be a problem with CFL (Moseley 2008) [Evidence level C].”

• Actinic Prurigo
“Severe cases may potentially be at risk from CFL (Moseley 2008) [Evidence level C].”

• Solar Urticaria
“It is possible that some patients could be at risk from CFL. It should be noted that incandescent light sources also cause problems in some patients [Evidence level C].”

• Genophotodermatoses
“It is possible that unfiltered CFL could be associated with increased disease activity. Patients are currently advised to avoid unfiltered fluorescent lighting. There could be assumed to be a similar problem with other members of the group [Evidence level C].”

• Porphyrias
“CFL in extremely sensitive patients could possibly produce a slight increase in the problem compared to tungsten light sources, although there is published evidence against this (Chingwell et al, 2008, in press) [Evidence level C].”

• Lupus Erythematosus
“Through their UV component, chronic exposure to CFL could possibly be a problem. Systemic lupus is an important condition in that skin flares can be associated with internal disease activity [Evidence level C].”

• Drug/Chemically Induced Photosensitivity
“Photosensitivity might be expected to arise with CFL to a greater extent than that seen currently with incandescent light sources because of the greater amount of blue light. However, these patients are closely managed because of their known temporary phototoxicity, and so in practice this is not likely to constitute a significant problem [Evidence level C].”

Sadly, it seems that the lowered quality of life and increased limitations of these already suffering groups due to universal CFL enforcements have not been taken seriously enough by those deciding to phase out the bulb. [1, 2]

“The committee notes that the use of double-envelope energy saving bulbs or similar technology would largely or entirely mitigate both the risk of approaching workplace limits on UV emissions in extreme conditions and the risk of aggravating the symptoms of light-sensitive individuals.”

Unless double-envelope CFLs become mandatory everywhere and naked CFLs get banned for health reasons, this only gives UV-sensitive patient groups relief in environments they can control themselves, and still doesn’t solve anything for all those who react to CFLs due to other factors than UV.

• We also have the elderly who need more light quantity than a young person. At 60, a person needs about 7 times more light than a child or teenager in order to see as well, and more with increasing age. [3] All who need more light may not be comfortable with CFLs which give a dimmer and more diffused light and which may also emit UV unless in a double envelope. To ban 100W, 75W and then 60W incandescent bulbs may be especially detrimental to those who need more light.

• Good light quality is also as essential for people over 65 as enough quantity, as the lens tends to get somewhat dulled and clouded with age. This gives a lowered contrast perception and colour vision so that colours will look paler. The poor colour rendering of standard CFLs will exacerbate this problem, whereas bright incandescent or halogen light will mitigate it.

• The ageing lens will also scatter light, like sunlight through a scratched windshield, with increased sensitivity to glare as a result, [3] making the ban on frosted bulbs particularly detrimental for those who need bright incandescent light to see colours well, but in a non-glaring bulb.

• For reading, the frosted bulb is also the best option as it lights the book smoothly, whereas clear bulbs and halogen spotlights with clear glass create distracting concentric light patterns on the page.

• Scandinavians have a tradition of preferring warm light and have an extra big need for good quality lighting during the long dark season, according to lighting reserchers at Lund Institute of Technology. [5]

• Then we have all those who just dislike CFLs due to their inferior light quality and unpleasant feel. Especially women [3, 4] (a rather large group!) as well as many lighting designers, artists and others with sensitive colour perception. While these last groups may not get ill from FL/CFL light, sensitive people may still feel decidedly uncomfortable and or unhappy with a poorer quality light.

Isn’t light an essential nutrient, just like water and food?

Top quality light (= natural daylight, firelight, incandescent and halogen light) could be compared with organic food or spring water, whereas FL, CFL, HID and LED light is like processed food or tap water. Some may not mind a lower quality, while others are very sensitive to it and willing to pay more for something that feels so much better.

1. Spectrum Alliance for Light Sensitivity
2. BBC: “Low-energy bulbs ‘worsen rashes'”
3. Belysning inomhus: riktlinjer och rekommendationer, Ljuskultur, 1990
4. Washington Post: “Fluorescent Bulbs Are Known to Zap Domestic Tranquillity”
5. Torbjörn Laike, Lund Institute of Technology

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2 Comments

  1. Duane Lawton said,

    July 23, 2011 at 1:27 am

    A lot of the emerging understanding of the adverse health effects of CFLs is summarized/linked at http://www.cflimpact.com

    It’s a shame that this doesn’t get as much attention as mercury, adverse life cycle GHG, cost, individual liberty, etc.

  2. halogenica said,

    July 23, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    Great site, thanks! I’ve added it as a link under Related sites.

    As some of the health effects are still controversial, rare or unknown, I’ve chosen to mainly focus on the hard technical facts on this site, which I find damning enough.

    When it comes to ‘dirty electricity’, everything with poor power factor contributes to it, from computers and TVs to dimmers and all sorts of electronic gadgets. Not that we then need CFLs contributing to it further…

    The low level UV radiation comes mainly from unshielded naked tube/spiral CFLs at close range. That type should IMO be banned but they don’t want to do that as the CFLs with outer casing are somewhat less efficient and tend to have shorter life span.

    What scares me the most is breakages in homes and public buildings. My aunt said she dropped one a few months ago. “So, what did you do with it?” “Why, chucked it in the bin, of course”, she replied. She had no idea you weren’t supposed to do that, despite us being fairly informed here in Sweden, and when I told her she still didn’t much care. After hearing this, I’m not so eager to visit her.

    How many more such cases do we not even know about when visiting friends and family? Or, as your site says, when going to a restaurant or supermarket? How likely are managers to a) know what to do; b) bother doing it or c) inform their customers? What about developing countries that are now be flooded with CFLs and probably not even informed of the risks and what to do with them if they break or when they burn out.


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