CFL Health Issues Update

Nothing new here for those of you who follow similar sites, just posting this to have it included on this site too.

UV radiation confirmed

Last month, Save The Bulb covered a Daily Mail article on the latest research on UV from CFLs. Here is abstract from the original U.S. study (emphasis added):

Compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs can provide the same amount of lumens as incandescent light bulbs, using one quarter of the energy. Recently, CFL exposure was found to exacerbate existing skin conditions; however, the effects of CFL exposure on healthy skin tissue have not been thoroughly investigated. In this study, we studied the effects of exposure to CFL illumination on healthy human skin tissue cells (fibroblasts and keratinocytes). Cells exposed to CFLs exhibited a decrease in the proliferation rate, a significant increase in the production of reactive oxygen species, and a decrease in their ability to contract collagen. Measurements of UV emissions from these bulbs found significant levels of UVC and UVA (mercury [Hg] emission lines), which appeared to originate from cracks in the phosphor coatings, present in all bulbs studied. The response of the cells to the CFLs was consistent with damage from UV radiation, which was further enhanced when low dosages of TiO2 nanoparticles (NPs), normally used for UV absorption, were added prior to exposure. No effect on cells, with or without TiO2 NPs, was observed when they were exposed to incandescent light of the same intensity.

(Note how not even a scientific study about light can now be published without the mandatory mention of how much CFLs ‘save’! What do savings have to do with health issues?) Anyway, Kevan comments:

Double envelope CFLs do reduce UV emissions considerably and should be used in any situation where lamps are at all close to people like task lighting, table lamps and bedside lights, particularly for the very young and very old whose skin tends to be more sensitive.

Which are less efficient and durable than naked CLF tubes. I’d recommend a frosted incandescent bulb for those tasks instead, if you have any hoarded. Or try a halogen PAR floodlight if directional lamps are suitable for the luminaire (light fitting). Or a warmwhite LED of highest quality if you can afford it.

Update Jan 2013:

UV leakage from CFLs confirmed again

Money saving, compact fluorescent light bulbs emit high levels of ultra violet radiation, according to a new study. Research at Long Island’s Stony Brook found that the bulbs emit rays so strong that they can actually burn skin and skin cells.

“The results were that you could actually initiate cell death,” said Marcia Simon, a Professor of Dermatology.

Exposure to the bulbs could lead to premature aging and skin cancer, according to doctors.

“It can also cause skin cancer in the deadliest form, and that’s melanoma,” said Dr. Rebecca Tung.

In every bulb that researchers tested they found that the protective coating around the light creating ‘phosphor’ was cracked, allowing dangerous ultraviolet rays to escape.

Homeowners expressed concern over the effect that the bulbs could have on children.

“That’s very unfortunate because the kids are getting exposed to so many different things at a younger age,” said Vicky Cobb.

Study: Some Eco-Friendly Light Bulbs May Put Health At Risk

Carcinogenic chemicals?

Last year The Telegraph reported on cancer causing chemicals in CFLs.

Peter Braun, who carried out the tests at the Berlin’s Alab Laboratory, said: “For such carcinogenic substances it is important they are kept as far away as possible from the human environment.”

The bulbs are already widely used in the UK following EU direction to phase out traditional incandescent lighting by the end of this year.

But the German scientists claimed that several carcinogenic chemicals and toxins were released when the environmentally-friendly compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) were switched on, including phenolnaphthalene and styrene.

(Click on each word for Wikipedia info on health effects.)

“Andreas Kirchner, of the Federation of German Engineers, said: “Electrical smog develops around these lamps. I, therefore, use them only very economically. They should not be used in unventilated areas and definitely not in the proximity of the head. 

Electro-smog is a different issue altogether, but good advice anyway.

British experts insisted that more research was needed and urged consumers not to panic.

Dr Michelle Bloor, senior lecturer in Environmental Science at Portsmouth University, told the Daily Express: “Further independent studies would need to be undertaken to back up the presented German research.”

The Department for the Environment insists the bulbs are safe, despite the fact that they contain small amounts of mercury which would leak out if the glass was broken.

Advice on its website states: “Energy efficient light bulbs are not a danger to the public.

“Although they contain mercury, limited at 5mg per lamp, it cannot escape from a lamp that is intact.

“In any case, the very small amount contained in an energy efficient bulb is unlikely to cause harm even if the lamp should be broken.”

To my knowledge, no such independent studies have been made, and the UK Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) still has no cautionary warnings on their website CFL page (last updated 29 October 2009). And the issue was not about mercury but about phenol, naphtalene and styrene.

For more CFL risks, see New Electric Politics



  1. clementsm said,

    August 20, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    You correctly point out that savings should be a secondary factor when considering health of a population when regulating these things, something we need to bear in mind is that the HUGE spike in power consumption that we are seeing throughout the world due to the massive increase in electronics in our homes has under-projected in the capacity planning of most utilities world wide.

    So the utilities are desperate to manage to their networks as they simply do not have the billions of dollars needed to expand generating and distribution, particularly in this era of carbon taxes on fossil plants and the hysteria surrounding nuclear.

    In an attempt to maintain their service level agreements (think the alternative – which is network management through rolling blackouts) they are turning to anything that is more efficient and lobbying governments to legislate against the products that are not (i.e., incandescent with a much lower lumen-per-watt), with very little regard for the complexity of these lamps, the fact that they rely on rare earth materials and mercury and the related logistical issues around disposal of these lamps. Notice also the massive increase in the numbers of smart meters that have been installed world-wide.

    I live in Canada and we have time-of-day billing that has been strongly skewed to incentivize off-peak usage of power. In Canada most of our power is hydro, so arguably a clean source – but the realities of inadequate capacity planning, an aging grid and long term power supply agreements with the USA (Canada exports enormous amounts of power to the USA) have left the utilities facing a very bleak expensive future.

    You are correct in pointing all of these issues, I think the answer lies in a complete overhaul of our current lighting practises. We need to look at completely new luminary design that makes efficient use of less lumens (which is less wattage), we need to focus on building design that makes better use of ambient lighting and we do need to spend much more money researching lamps, particularly techniques that have the potential to provide continuous spectrum lighting such as electron excited phosphor, some types of plasma lamps (sulphur plasmas and so on).

    The incandescent is going to experience pressure given its high infra-red output, but this knee jerk reaction to ban them and push CFLs is going to bite us hard.

    •  lighthouse said,

      August 20, 2012 at 7:57 pm

      as you say Governments and indeed utilities want people to use more off-peak energy. which new smart grids and meters will also help incentivize

      However, the absurdity with lighting bans is of course that the great majority of that use is off-peak already!

      The absurdity continues with the assumed major environmental problem, Coal, in that even with newer cycling coal plants a lot of coal is burned whether lights are on or off, let alone what bulb you choose.

      Many do know that switching bulbs don’t amount to much in the overall sense of saving the World, but the notion is that “every little helps” – but in reality that is not true either, meaningless alteration in usage not just subsumed by operational factors, but in the Real World where say coal plants are 30-35% efficient and 8-9% of power is lost in transmission,

      And, yes, the political slogans of “19% of electricity used by llighting” typically ignores industrial and transport sectors that would dilute the figure, while happily including all street and office lighting which usually has nothing to do with incandescent lighting, and so on, finally ignoring that replacement lighting of course also uses electricity.

      There is no harm in researching new energy saving lighting – why not – but it does not mean having to ban the simple cheap alternatives, exceot for major corporations who want to gain big profits from the steered sales of their new complex expensive patented offerings.

  2.  lighthouse said,

    August 20, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    not even a scientific study about light can now be published without the mandatory mention of how much CFLs ‘save’! What do savings have to do with health issues

    …. or indeed with all the other good qualities a lighting choice can have,
    apart from energy saving., which on both individual and in particular society level does not amount to much.

    There is a fundamental point,
    that politicians may well be the Guardians of Society Energy use,
    but hardly of Individual Use.
    In other words, if I -and others with me- are not going to break
    down a power plant from what bulb we use, what;s the problem.
    – and no “every little helps” does not apply with lighting for the reasons given
    The further irony is of course that there has never been so many future sources of electricity to choose from, also “enviro-friendly” ones.

    Temporary shortages in Canada or elsewhere is one thing, but does not preclude proper planning,
    except by lazy bulb waving token clowns, that pass for politicians..

  3. December 21, 2012 at 1:23 am

    […] rising demands from the West is causing an environmental disaster in Asia! CFLs  may also emit carcerogenic chemical and UV radiation (through cracks in the phosphor layer in the inside of the […]

  4. Klaus Pierstorff said,

    March 23, 2014 at 2:00 am

    what about the ‘switchon-spike’: 1 switchon = 2 hours use consumption?
    Toilet light on motion sensor- on/ off 20 times a day!

    • halogenica said,

      March 30, 2014 at 10:46 pm

      That would shorten life rather dramatically.

      The bathroom is the worst possible place to put them!

      1. One is usually only in there for a few minutes, so savings to be had are null. You only shorten the life of the lamp with the frequent switching.

      2. Unlike incandescent, halogen and LED, a CFL may take several minutes to reach full brightness. By that time you’re probably already finished.

      3. The poorer colour rendition makes you look terrible in the mirror.

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