EU CFL FAQ 2 – Part III b

Comments to part III:12-17 of the EU FAQ #2.

Compact fluorescent lamp environmental impact issues

EU FAQ: III.12. Ecobalance over the life cycle

More materials and energy are needed to produce a compact fluorescent lamp than an conventional incandescent bulb, and it also results in more waste at the end of life. Does this not outweigh the benefits of its energy efficiency?

According to the technical study ordered by the Commission to prepare for the regulation on household lamps (, the impact of energy savings during the use of a compact fluorescent lamp clearly outweigh the environmental impact of its production and its end-of-life. Therefore using them rather than conventional incandescent bulbs reduces the overall energy use and the environmental impact of lighting.

My comment: I’ve read this study and find it flawed, biased and questionable on more counts than I can count. Here are just a few of the more obvious points:

1. Putting clear and frosted GLS in separate classes, despite the difference in output being virtually non-existent and all other things the same, while the widely varying CFL models (bare, covered, dimmable, outdoor, daylight, improved CRI etc) with their equally varying quality levels, efficacies, applications and life spans get represented by one (!) class and (top notch) CFL type only.

2. Using unusual (average, rather than existing) lamp wattages for incandescent lamps, 54W GLS and 13W CFL as base-cases, both with incorrect lumens for their wattage-class, according to leading manufacturer catalogues.

3. Incorrect (too short) life span for typical low-voltage halogen lamps, skewing comparison with other lamp types.

4. Overly optimistic estimations of CFL recycling rates (“20%” in all of EU).

5. Like most pro-CFL ‘studies’, this one does not count the mining process for the mercury and phosphors (stating a “lack of info” on that part of the process). A reader commenting a mercury article online appears to know more: “To produce purified mercury in a CFL, the extraction process releases about 0.4mg for every milligram produced into the waterways, atmosphere, and soil as waste. This is a well-established worldwide average that includes many processes, both crude and hi-tech. This means that the 4mg in the CFL actually represents 5.6mg of mercury that enters our environment.”

6. Making distribution impact estimates on the assumption that all lamps are produced in Europe, while fully aware that most CFLs are produced in Asia:

VITO: “The distribution phase contributes more than 5 % of the life cycle impacts for 11 of the 15 environmental impact indicators. Impacts of this phase are the highest for the emission of PAHs (69 %), heavy metals (22 %), volatile organic compounds (VOC) (21 %), and particulate matter to air. This can be explained by the assumption related to transport in trucks from the retailer’s central warehouse to the shop. (…) according to the MEEuP methodology (section 5.3.6, page 96), a mix of means of transport (trucking, rail, sear freight and air freight) with assumptions on distances was used for all base-cases. This assumption could be considered as disadvantageous for lamps mainly produced in Europe (e.g. GLS-F and GLS-C) and advantageous for lamps produced in Asia (e.g. CFLi). [emphasis added]

7. Not including the energy used to recycle the mercury.

VITO: “Collected CFLi’s at end of life are crushed in a closed installation and sieved. The mercury containing fraction is distilated at 600°C to separate the mercury. The pure, metallic mercury is used again by lamp industry.”

8. Not including all the forced individual driving to remote recycling stations for householders who wish to leave their CFLs for recycling, or to the few retailers who have a recycling program, and then from them to the recycling stations, then transportation from recycling stations to reprocessing factories and from reprocessing factories back to the lamp factories. As Dr Peter Thornes points out on his website, when the lamp industry has their CFL production located in China, that’s where the mercury has to be shipped back to:

“However, it is not just the energy requiring manufacture (after all, CFLs have longer lifespans, which gives some compensation). It is also the greater emissions from their longer transport from the fewer centra in which CFLs are economical to make (China), and it is also the further CFL transport emissions to recycling plants and the emissions of their reprocessing there, and the further transport of reprocessed parts to different locations. This means that inter-continental transport between China and North America/Europe can take place twice, since CFL content including mercury may be shipped back to China for reprocessing and new manufacture. Even more significantly, shipping use of bunker oil, the worst CO2 emitting type of oil, greatly increases the emissions involved (more).”

Sounds like an awful lot of driving, shipping, processing and polluting, doesn’t it?

9. Not including the future costs of brain damaged babies, learning disabled children or lowered general health and mental function of coming generations through slow mercury poisoning of the entire population after millions of CFLs end up in landfills.

III.13. No need to remain on to save energy

Is it true that because of high energy use at start-up, compact fluorescent lamps have to remain switched on for 45 minutes before they bring any energy saving at all?

It is not true that energy saving lamps do not provide energy savings when switched on only briefly. The energy use of compact fluorescent lamps in the first 2 to 3 seconds of their operation is slightly higher, but after that their power uptake is stabilised. In practice, they provide energy savings compared to incandescent bulbs right from the moment they are switched on. Nevertheless, compact fluorescent lamps might not be the proper choices for some applications. If the lamp is switched on both briefly and rarely, the energy savings will counterbalance the higher purchase price of the lamp only very slowly, over several years or even decades. In such a case the much cheaper improved incandescent bulbs with halogen technology should be used. If the lamp is switched on briefly and frequently, it may reduce the lifetime in the case of some compact fluorescent lamps. This functionality is also addressed by the regulation, requiring that compact fluorescent lamps should reach the claimed life time while being switched on/off once for every hour of operation. Where frequent on/off switching is likely, dedicated compact fluorescent lamps that can endure up to 1 million switching cycles, or other energy saving light sources insensitive to switching can be used (such as improved incandescent bulbs with halogen technology which will also remain available). If this is a feature consumers are concerned about, they should look out for the information on the product packaging, where the manufacturers will be required to display the number of times the lamp can be switched on before failure.

In other words, this still is a problem with many CFLs, so use standard CFLs only in lamps that you usually have turned on for longer periods at a time.

III.14. Mercury content and the environment

Compact fluorescent lamps contain mercury, a hazardous material, conventional incandescent bulbs do not. If more compact fluorescent lamps are used, does it not mean more mercury pollution in the EU?

Mercury is present in compact fluorescent lamps in such a small amount that during its lifetime a compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) will have saved more mercury emissions from electricity production in coal power plants (compared to the mercury emissions related to the conventional incandescent bulbs’ electricity need) than is contained in the CFL itself.

This clever PR argument was created in 1991 as part of the organised global anti-lightbulb campaign. It was based on Danish coal use which at that time was the highest in Europe (95%) and a ridiculously low theoretical CFL mercury content of only 0.69 mg. EU as a whole uses much less coal now (29%), and some contries none at all. (See my post Mercury problem increasing for more details.)

Even incandescent-hating consultant firm VITO, when trying their best to find fault with the incandescent lamp and benefits in CFLs in the preparatory study, was unable to produce more than the most marginal Hg reduction (10.9%) when comparing the best performing CFL base-case with the poorest performing GLS base-case and assuming a Hg content of 4mg and an optimistic recycling rate of 20% across EU. Considering the fact that most CFLs used at home don’t perform nearly as well or last as long as the nominal values for that state-of-the-art naked tube CFL (as measured after 100 burning hours in optimal lab conditions, at optimal temperature and burning position wihtout shades) which is always used as base-case CFL, one can safely assume even this small number to be exaggerated as well.

If one wishes to stop mercury emissions, the most logical thing would be to phase out the use of coal (and gold mining!) rather than phasing out an arbitrarily chosen consumer product that uses less than 1% of total energy consumption and contains no toxic substances on its own.

Moreover, CFLs should be recycled according to EU legislation already in place.

Yes, they should. But, as I’ve pointed out before, “should” does not mean they will be. Some have more pressing matters on their daily agenda than safely recycling their lamps. Even in countries with good recycling schemes many peope aren’t aware that CFLs should be recycled (about half the Danes did not know this as of January 2009). Getting them to a recycling station for hazardous goods is no easy thing, especially if you’re elderly or don’t have a car. (See my post about Recycling)

Mercury is an important component of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) that plays a key role in their energy efficiency and also other parameters such as lifetime and warm-up times. There are up to 5 milligrams (0,005 grams) of mercury contained in a CFL (compared to 50 milligrams in button batteries, 500 milligrams in dental amalgam filling or several grams in older thermometers). The 5 mg limit is set in the Restriction on Hazardous Substances Directive (2002/95/EC), which in general forbids mercury in electric and electronic equipment, but provides some exemptions in duly motivated cases. The limit is enforced by Member States equally on all bulbs, whether they are cheap Chinese ones or produced by European manufacturers.

But even the Commission’s own consultants in their Domestic Lighting Study found one sample of five tested to contain 6.4 mg – assumed due to manual hand-dripping in Chines non-automated factories – and the Maine DEP found a range of 0.9 to 18 mg! Mercury in CFLs

Compact fluorescent lamps have been widely used in European homes in the past decade, they will not be introduced by this regulation.

But they will be more or less mandated by this regulation as they are not used widely enough in the Commission’s opinion.

Most office and public buildings, and also most streets have been equipped for the last 50 years with fluorescent and high-intensity discharge lamps containing mercury (often much more than compact fluorescent lamps).

But in in public buildings and street lights, the lamps are placed much higher in luminaires that cannot be knocked over, and there are usually routines for recycling them properly after use. But they are of course only safe as long as there are no earth quakes, fires or other disasters. After the 9/11 attack on New York, rescue workers have been getting sick, some from mercury poisoning! Assumably from all the florescent lights breaking as the twin towers went down.

Gotham Gazette: “Detective James Zadroga was inside 7 World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001. He escaped –- barely –- when the building collapsed. But Zadroga could not escape the damage done to his body by the hundreds of hours he spent at Ground Zero cleaning up the rubble in the following weeks. On January 5 of this year, Zadroga died from lung disease and mercury poisoning – a condition that hasn’t been a widespread occupational hazard for over a century when hatters were sickened as they dyed beaver pelts.”

The Heroes Of 9/11 Are Getting Sick

The directive only mandates shops to take back CFLs and other electronics if one buys a new one at the same time (great way to keep consumption going). Some shops have volunteered to take them back without such strings attached, but that is their own choice. When calling around to check, many of these retailers had no idea that Hg vapourises at room temperature and had no routines for avoiding CFL breakage in recycling bins until informed of this fact! Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to provide every shop in Europe with this information. I think it is the responsibility of the Commission to make sure all are informed.

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (2002/96/EC) provides for the collection and recycling of waste electrical and electronic equipments (WEEE), including lighting equipment such as compact fluorescent lamps. (…) If consumers take back their burned-out compact fluorescent lamps to collection points just as they do with batteries, the mercury content will be recycled and not released to the environment.

Member States have to ensure that users of electrical and electronic equipment are given the necessary information about the requirement not to dispose lamps as unsorted municipal waste and to collect such waste separately, as well as about the return and collection system available to them. Member States are also responsible for ensuring the availability and accessibility of collection facilities.

Quite a hefty obligation costing extra resources which poorer countries may not have!

The Commission also proposed to recast the WEEE Directive on 3 December 2008, so that the collection target for all WEEE is increased and the recycling target for gas discharge lamps is set at the level of 85%. This proposal will now go to co-decision with the Council and the European Parliament.

Good. Why not recommend a refundable recycling fee, such as already exists for bottles and cans for all goods containing toxic elements? That would surely increase recycling rates. And don’t forget to inform that CFLs must be kept from breaking!

Improved incandescent bulbs with halogen technology that do not contain any mercury are and will remain available, however they provide 25-45% energy savings compared to conventional incandescent bulbs, whereas compact fluorescent lamps save up to 80%.

Not this again! Up to 65-75% according to your own statements earlier, remember? Unless we bring things like power factor, light deprication, frequent switching and cheap imports into the calculation… then it goes down to about the level of the best halogen energy savers.

LEDs (light emitting diodes) are a rapidly emerging mercury-free technology, meeting or even surpassing compact fluorescent lamps in efficiency. However, at this stage they are not yet developed enough to be valid alternatives to the full range of household conventional incandescent bulbs (mainly available in low light outputs only, equivalent to 25W conventional incandescent bulbs).

Right. And the light colour is even worse than in CFLs.

It can be expected that in the next few years they will develop to become replacements for most existing lamps, however there is no absolute certainty about that and we need to act on climate change right away with the products that are already on the market. Nevertheless, the Commission is financing research into LEDs for general lighting through the ongoing and future calls of the EU’s 7th Research Framework Programme. The proposed regulation will be revised at the latest 5 years after adoption, and due account will be taken of the state of development of the LED market.

Good. But you’re not going to save the planet by forcing CFLs on a public which has very good reason to be reluctant! Promoting CFLs so much stronger than Halogen Energy Savers will only create more problems down the line and, as mentioned previously, is already causing a health and environmental disaster in China!

Compact fluorescent lamps and health

III.17. Effect on light sensitive people

The light produced by compact fluorescent lamps aggravates the symptoms of people suffering from auto-immune diseases such as lupus and ME. They now use conventional incandescent bulbs in their homes, if these are phased out will they be left in the dark?

The Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (on a mandate from the Commission services) has been looking into the question of possible health effects of compact fluorescent lamps on people with certain diseases and on the general public, following up to complaints from certain patients’ associations. The Committee examined flicker, electromagnetic fields (EMF) and ultraviolet / blue light radiation from the lamps to determine whether they aggravate the symptoms of such patients.

In its report, the Committee found no evidence that would indicate that either EMF or flicker could be a significant contributor. For the general public, very close exposure to a bare lamp (< 20 cm) for more than 8 hours could eventually affect health by exceeding workplace limits on UV emissions. This is a situation that does not occur in normal use. Hands held very close to halogen lamps or touching conventional incandescent lamps get burnt much more quickly because of the intense heat, so such a situation is not usual anyway with household lamps.

On the other hand, according to the report the symptoms of a maximum of 250.000 people in the EU suffering from diseases accompanied by light sensitivity could be aggravated in the presence of bare compact fluorescent lamps (independent of distance) due to UV and blue light emissions. Using commonly available compact fluorescent lamps with a second lamp envelope can both solve the problem of light-sensitive patients and prevent overexposure of the general public even in extreme situations. However, the envelope slightly lowers (about 10%) the efficacy of the compact fluorescent lamp, meaning more lamps using more power will be needed for the same light output. Transparent or translucid luminaires that fully cover up the bare lamps have the same effect as a second lamp envelope.

Also alternative technologies can be chosen by consumers, such as improved incandescent bulbs (with halogen technology) that have identical light spectrum to conventional incandescent bulbs.

In addition, the ecodesign regulation on non-directional household lamps introduces maximum UV emmission limit values for compact fluorescent lamps.

Good. But the estimated 250.000 light sensitive people will still be victims of the potentially aggravating naked CFLs in environments they have no personal control over, now not just in office buildings but in more and more restaurants, shops and people’s homes, restricting their lives even more than before.

Frosted incandescent lamps emit the least UV radiation. And LED lamps of course, but they have lower light quality and equipping a whole home with LED lamps is not something everyone can afford. This is another reason frosted lamps need to be allowed on the European market again, besides protecting from glare in unshaded luminaires.

III.18. No effect on epilepsy and migraine

Is it true that compact fluorescent lamps produce light through high frequency discharges causing flicker and triggering attacks on people suffering from epilepsy or migraine?

The Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (on a mandate from the Commission services) did not find proper evidence underpinning any negative health effects relating to flicker. The Committee examined flicker, electromagnetic fields (EMF) and ultraviolet / blue light radiation from the lamps to determine whether they aggravate the symptoms of such patients. In its report, the Committee found no evidence that would indicate that either EMF or flicker could be a significant contributor. Modern compact fluorescent lamps operate at frequencies so high that they are beyond human perception.

Hm, this is what the SCENIHR report on light sensitivity actually says:

“Fluorescent lamps can cause eye-strain and headache (Wilkins et al. 1991). Patients with migraine show somewhat lowered flicker fusion thresholds during migraine-free periods (Kowacs et al. 2004). In addition, photophobia, which is an abnormal perceptual sensitivity to light experienced by most patients with headache during and also between attacks, is documented in many studies (Main et al. 2000). People with migraine claim to be particularly sensitive to blue light (European Lamp Companies Federation). Conclusion: 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].”

Lack of proof is not the same as proof of non-existence. There may also be other properties to CFLs that make them ill tolerated by sensitive people, e.g. glare, fluorescence, spiky spectral distribution, increasingly duller light that causes eye strain etc.

Compact fluorescent lamps provide light that flickers at a frequency of about 60 kHz (60 000 Hz). There is consensus that flicker of such high frequency is not perceptible to the human eye. It is already doubtful whether flicker at 100 Hz can be perceived. It is true that compact fluorescent lamps produce also some weak modulation at 100 Hz, however this is not unique to this lamp type. As SCENIHR writes, also incandescent bulbs emit a low-intensity “flicker” at 100 Hz, simply because this is twice the frequency of the mains voltage electricity network (the power being delivered to the lamp peaks twice per cycle).

A. It is not at all doubtful whether flicker at 100 Hz can be perceived by some. Swedish studies have shown extra sensitive individuals to perceive flicker above the normal threshold around 90 pps (I personally know several who claim to have this debilitating superability).

B. It is true that most CFLs sold today are of the high-frequency ballast type with a 60 KHz flicker rate, far above anything even the most perceptive human would be able to see. However, there is a wide range of human sensibility and I don’t think we can exclude the possibility that the bodies of exceptionally sensitive or sensitised individuals can subliminally perceive this extremely fast flicker and react to it as a stress factor, if not as a visible modulation. Quite a large number of people report headaches, migraine, stress or general discomfort triggered by fluorescent light, I’m sure they can’t all be imagining this, even if science has yet to find a plausible explanation? People with allergies, migraines and hypersensitivities tend to eventually become very apt at noticing what factors trigger their symptoms. Why should they not be believed? Also, about 15-20% of the population is estimated at being highly sensitive persons, and many of those tend to strongly dislike and feel disturbed by fluorescent light, even if they don’t get ill.

C. Just a couple of days ago I was surprised to be able to see several CFLs flickering in a dimly lit restaurant. I asked the staff about this and they said it was because the CFLs were slightly dimmed. This perceptible flicker was enough to cause a headache in an extra sensitive girl in our company.

D. Correct that incandescent lamps also flicker but as the filament keeps burning between pulses, this reduces the flicker to a more even light flow. I have yet to hear of a flicker sensitive person reacting to incandescent light.

III.19. Electromagnetic fields

Is it true that compact fluorescent lamps generate electromagnetic fields and should not be used as bedside lamps or desk lamps where they are too close to the human body?

Long answer: There is no scientific evidence of any link between the electromagnetic fields (EMF) emitted by compact fluorescents lamps and the symptoms of “electrically sensitive” people. EMF emissions from CFLs are within international limits on public exposure to EMF. Upon request of the European Commission, the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) has recently issued an opinion on Light Sensitivity, namely with regard to the possible aggravation of already existing symptoms of patients with certain diseases due to the use of compact fluorescent lamps.

The issue of electromagnetic hypersensitivity due to the use of such lamps has been examined. SCENIHR concluded that it has never been conclusively and convincingly shown that there exist any connections between electromagnetic fields (EMF) and the symptoms that are reported by persons with so-called electromagnetic hypersensitivity, although their symptoms are real and in many cases severe.

There is no scientific evidence of correlation between EMF from compact fluorescent lamps, and symptoms and disease states. SCENIHR also stated in its recent opinion on Health Effects of Exposure to EMF that the emissions from compact fluorescent lamps have been investigated recently and that available results showed compliance with existing limits. The levels decrease drastically beyond 30 cm from the lamps. In any case, compact fluorescent lamps available on the market have to fulfil the requirements of Directive 2006/95/EC on the harmonisation of the laws of Member States relating to electrical equipment designed for use within certain voltage limits.

Well, CFLs do emit more EMFs than incandescent lamps, I think we can agree on that, or there wouldn’t be any need for regulation. As for electrosensitivity, again I think people know their own bodies best. That studies have not been able to prove a link could be explained by poor test design, and by who gets funding to conduct such studies.

Also alternative technologies can be chosen by consumers, such as improved incandescent bulbs with halogen technology but without integrated transformer, which only generate the same type of electromagnetic fields as conventional incandescent bulbs.

Right. So class C halogens without integrated transformer need to be kept available for the allegedly electrosensitive after 2016, or they will have no option at all left, apart from candles and stinking kerosene lamps.

III.20. Mercury content and health

Compact fluorescent lamps contain mercury, which is a highly toxic substance. Do compact fluorescent lamps represent a danger to health because of that?

Mercury is an important component of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) that plays a key role in their energy efficiency and also other parameters such as lifetime and warm-up times. There are up to 5 milligrams (0,005 grams) of mercury contained in a CFL (compared to 50 milligrams in button batteries, 500 milligrams in dental amalgam filling or several grams in older thermometers). The 5 mg limit is set in the Restriction on Hazardous Substances Directive (2002/95/EC), which in general forbids mercury in electric and electronic equipment, but provides some exemptions in duly motivated cases. The limit is enforced by Member States equally on all bulbs, whether they are cheap Chinese ones or produced by European manufacturers.

But the Commission’s own consultants found one sample out of five to contain more than 5 mg… Who will check if all imported lamps stay within limits?

Compact fluorescent lamps have been widely used in European homes in the past decade, they will not be introduced by this regulation. Most office and public buildings, and also most streets have been equipped for the last 50 years with fluorescent and high-intensity discharge lamps containing mercury (often much more than compact fluorescent lamps).

As I’ve already pointed out, in offices lamps are are placed in the ceiling, in environments with adults only, whereas CFLs are meant to go in every possible luminaire at home if the Commission has its way, including floor and table lamps which can easily be knocked over by children, pets and at parties.

The mercury content cannot escape from CFLs, except in the event of accidental breakage of the lighting tubes. In that case less than 5 milligrams of mercury could be released.

The “5 milligrams” is an average. Some contain less, some more.

The Ecodesign regulation requires manufacturers to explain on their websites how consumers should clean debris in case the CFL’s tubes accidentally break, and to include on the packaging of each lamp the link to online explanations. Such an explanation is already available on the website of the European Lamp Companies Federation. In short, if the lamp breaks accidentally, if possible air the room before cleaning the lamp with a wet cloth, avoid skin contact with debris and do not use a vacuum cleaner.

Assumably this one: ELC Mercury Factsheet (not easy to find on their website). Let’s see what it says:

“Since energy saving fluorescent lamps are made of glass, care should be taken when handling them. Always screw and unscrew the lamp by its base, and do not forcefully twist the lamp into a light socket by its tube. Breaking an energy saving fluorescent lamp is extremely unlikely to have any impact on your health. Proper cleanup and adequate ventilation minimize the impact even further. If a lamp breaks, switch off the electricity and ventilate the room for 20-30 minutes. Broken lamps should be removed, preferably with protective gloves, and be placed in a sealed plastic bag in the disposal bin. Avoid using the vacuum cleaner to remove the broken parts.”

Not a very impressive clean-up guide… It downplays both proven dangers of mercury and the contamination level that may occur. The Maine DEP tests found that:

“Mercury concentration in the study room air often exceeds the Maine Ambient Air Guideline (MAAG) of 300 nanograms per cubic meter (ng/m3) for some period of time, with short excursions over 25,000 ng/m3, sometimes over 50,000 ng/m3, and possibly over 100,000 ng/m3 from the breakage of a single compact fluorescent lamp” “Although following the pre-study cleanup guidance produces visibly clean flooring surfaces for both wood and carpets (shag and short nap), all types of flooring surfaces tested can retain mercury sources even when visibly clean. Flooring surfaces, once visibly clean, can emit mercury immediately at the source that can be greater than 50,000 ng/m3. Flooring surfaces that still contain mercury sources emit more mercury when agitated than when not agitated. This mercury source in the carpeting has particular significance for children rolling around on a floor, babies crawling, or non mobile infants placed on the floor.” *

The ELC also gives incorrect (=dangerous) advice about debris storage! The Maine DEP testing found plastic bags and even plastic containers to be insufficient to prevent Hg vapour leaking out and contaminating everything around.

“Surprisingly, plastic jars, like large peanut butter containers with screw top lids were little better than plastic bags, also failing to prevent mercury vapour from leaking into the house. The best method of containing bulb waste is inside a glass jar with a hermetically sealed lid.”

Mercury in CFLs

Should EU not have the same recommendations; that

“homeowners consider not utilizing fluorescent lamps in situations where they could easily be broken, in bedrooms used by infants, small children or pregnant women, or over carpets in rooms frequented by infants, small children or pregnant women.”

And will EU require a label on the box stating the mercury content, warning about use around children pregnant women and explaining what to do and not to do in case of an accident?

Buying commonly available CFLs with an outer non-breakable lamp envelope is another way to address the issue of mercury leakage in case of accidental lamp breakage.

Right. So why not ban any CFL that has not got a non-breakable envelope and amalgam technology to keep people and the environment safe? Because some of the major producers don’t have such an option yet? Or because that would make the CFLs more expensive and slightly less efficient, which is more important issues than people’s health..?

Consumers who would particularly worry about mercury can choose alternative technologies such as improved incandescent bulbs with halogen technology, which do not contain mercury.

Not if they want a frosted bulb, as all frosted bulbs are now banned.

III.22 Light spectrum and public health (UV, hormones, cancer etc)

Does the specific light spectrum of compact fluorescent lamps make them a threat to public health?

The Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (on a mandate from the Commission services) has been looking into the question of possible health effects of compact fluorescent lamps on people with certain diseases and on the general public, following up to complaints from certain patients’ associations. In its opinion, the Committee concluded that for the general public, very close and prolonged exposure to a bare lamp (< 20 cm) could possibly affect health by exceeding workplace limits on UV emissions. According to the United Kingdom’s Health Protection Agency, less than 10% of the bare lamps exceed workplace limits in 8 hours of exposure at 20 cms from the lamp 14 , and none in 4 hours. This is a situation that is not very likely to occur during normal use, as experience with today’s household lamps suggests.

Earlier studies have found an increased risk for melanoma on some working people working indoors under fluorescent tubes in the ceiling, compared with people not working under FL.

Malignant melanoma and the exposure to fluorescent lighting at wo

The Association of Cutaneous Malignant Melanoma and Fluorescent Light Exposure

III.23. Safety issues and signs of end of life

Are compact fluorescent lamps safe for use? Is it normal if there is a bad odour or smoke when they are switched on, or if they emit an audible noise?

Compact fluorescent lamps placed on the EU market have to comply with the product safety legislation of the EU (notably the General Product Safety Directive 2001/95/EC and the Low Voltage Directive 2006/95/EC). Industry and international standardisation organizations established harmonised safety standards for compact fluorescent lamps many years ago and are periodically reviewing them. These standards provide presumption of conformity with product safety legislation in the EU. Compact fluorescent lamps should be replaced at the first sign of any odour, smoke, audible noise, or in case of erratic behavior such as flashing, flickering that may indicate an electrical component failure. If this happens clearly before the lifetime indicated on the packaging has elapsed, the lamp should be returned to the manufacturer or retailer for possible further analysis.

Good advice! Doesn’t make them sound very safe, though.



  1. Morton W Reed PhD PE said,

    March 22, 2010 at 1:30 am

    Light pollution is a far greater problem than the CFL problem. Inefficient
    lighting is rampant. Our cars have amber tail lights that blind cars behind them. This is a failure of our DOT.

    Auto headlamps are out of control and dangerous. DOT again.

    There are no rules for the brilliant signs and highway lamps
    that blind anyone in their path and waste energy.

    Commercial and residential lighting is installed without regard to the
    safety or efficiency.

    Efficient lighting would have made cfc’s unnecessary. Now we have
    mercury on our hands for centuries because of this engineering blunder.

  2. otitismedia di monaco said,

    March 27, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    Your statement brings up a wide range of topics, light pollution being one with a lot of facets, and it certainly shows a power-saving potential far superior to that of CFLs.

    However, as one example, for people in thousands of stores which have open fluorescent lamp recycling bins labeled “throw in here” – there, lamps get crashed routinely by customers, or crushed by employees – you bet that CFLs are a more acute problem than light pollution.

    You seem to be an expert in the field of machine vision, but automotive lights still mostly produce glare for humans, not “cars”=machines. And if, as Halogenica reported, automotive lights in parts of Scandinavia seem to be out of control, too, but the U.S. DOT or NHTSA obviously are not the culprits there, then your reasoning seems incomplete. For more on topics related to glare and road traffic, this website, sometimes gets recommended.

    Assuming that you are involved with a water supply company in Columbus, Ga., maybe you could tell us something about how mercury-containing UV-C lamps in water treatment plants are generally safe-handled and shielded from possibly contaminating drinking water?

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