UN Mercury Treaty Phases Out CFLs!

Now CFLs are included on the list of items to be phased out by 2020 due to mercury content!

Wow! Isn’t that rather remarkable for a lamp which all the world has heralded as greener than green? What does Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Project Porchlight and all the other pro-CFL-activists have to say about this?

Rik Gheysens has just made an excellent summary of the whole conference and all that was agreed upon in the treaty: UNEP and CFLs

He also describes the 50 million US$ UN-en.lighten Project that I’ve mentioned earlier, in which Philips & Osram will get paid to flood developing countries with toxic CFLs for another 7 years! (As I hardly think they’re going to hand out free LEDs…) How about some PET solar or LED gravity lamps to replace kerosene, which is one of the stated objectives of the Project? As long as it’s with something truly green and not with toxic CFLs, I’m all for it. But I’m not for replacing safe incandescent lamps with toxic CFLs.

Don’t buy any more CFLs! 

Buy halogen lamps instead and wait for LEDs get better (the LEDs sold now are mostly a ripoff, for which you get very little light of very mediocre quality and untested life span).

CFLs for private use should be banned with no delay.

If incandescent lamps could be banned much quicker than that for no good reason at all, why not make a more decisive effort to get the toxic lamps off the market a s a p?

And the incandescent ban should be lifted immediately, as the incandescent bulb is by far the safest & most environmentally friendly lamp ever made! 

Update Feb 19th: Unfortunately, it seems that the UN treaty limits are set at 5 mg mercury, so that most CFLs will slip through the net anyway:

The wording is not final yet however the draft of the convention recently signed by 140 UN countries proposes a complete ban on manufacture, import and export lamps containing more than 5mg of Mercury from 2020.

International Mercury Convention Picks Wrong Lighting Target


CFL Fire Risk?

Happened to stumble upon this entertainingly written blog article, about a very serious issue:

Build a home, work on it day and night, stick a Walmart CFL in it and burn it down

“We are in the finishing stages of a way too long project of building our own home and everything is up to current code or better and has been inspected by the county. So yesterday morning when we smelled what seemed to be an electrical fire we started to do some fast investigating. We went to the breaker panel first then the outlets and switch locations in the dinning room where the smell was the strongest. I then went outside to check the crawlspace vents to see if something was on fire under the house, and nothing.

“So looking up I could see one of the CFL bulbs was no longer lit in a ceiling light and we could see a hint of smoke coming out of it. We flipped the light off and got our tall ladder out. Normally CFL’s are cool enough to unscrew even after they’ve been on for a while. Not this Chinese hunks of shit, it was hot as hell and was developing a zit in the transformer housing of the bulb. If it had been left unchecked there’s a pretty good chance it would have caught on fire. So a word to the wise IF YOU BOUGHT ANY GREAT VALUE CFL BULBS TAKE THEM BACK!”

“I’m really starting to believe that the Chinese are doing this on purpose, what a better way to fight a war than to have you enemy buy the weapons of mass destruction from you, and use them on themselves.”

The CFL ‘zit’ 

A CFL in recessed can starting to burn

A CFL in recessed can starting to burn

So, would the house really have caught fire or was this just the normal way for the CFL to expire?

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (which welcomes product safety complaints) reports on 124 000 recalled CFLs due to fire hazard. And another case of 158 000 3-way CFLs.

CFL burn-out

CFL burn-out (image via Mail Online)

The Consumer Reports 2011 article, Bulbs pose fire hazard reports on another recall for the same reason:

“More than 300,000 compact fluorescent lightbulbs from Telstar Products have been recalled because they can overheat and possibly cause a fire, according to the company and federal authorities.”

And gives an explanation as to how this may happen:

“When a CFL can no longer light, its electronics still try to turn on the bulb, which could eventually overheat and cause the smoke and discoloration.”

However, government agencies and pro-CFL activists such as Project Porchlight, try to reassure us that this is no cause for concern, that actual fires started are rare, and that the foul smoke from dying CFLs is perfectly normal for this product:

It is normal for some CFL bulbs to smoke a little and even show signs of melted plastic on the ballast (the plastic base of the lamp) at the end of their lives. When CFL bulbs burn out, heat builds up in the ballast and the lamp’s safety feature kicks in: the Voltage Dependent Resistor (VDR) – an electronic component that cuts the circuit (like a circuit breaker).

I’m sure it’s not very healthy breathing in fumes from a smoldering or smoking CFL, even if it doesn’t catch fire!!

To minimise CFL fire risk, this is what the San Fransisco Fire Department advices:

The first and most important recommendation from the San Francisco Fire Marshal regarding any product with a
potential fire hazard is to read the instructions for installation, limitations and warnings that are provided with the

Other important safety information (sometimes printed on the bulb itself) related to CFLs that, if overlooked, can
translate into a fire hazard are outlined below:

• CFLs should not be used in track, recessed or inverted fixtures
• CFLs should not be used with a dimmer switch unless clearly marked otherwise
• CFLs should not be used in place of a 3-way bulb, unless clearly marked otherwise
• CFLs being used outdoors must be enclosed
• CFLs should not be used in emergency exit fixtures or lights

I’d also recommend replacing CFLs before they burn out (literally) by themselves, something which you need to do anyway as they tend to get so much dimmer over time.

Do a little test and remove a CFL you’ve had for more than a year (if it has lasted that long) and put in an equivalent incandescent (like the one that you had there before) or a halogen energy saver just to compare the brightness and light quality. You may be surprised!

And never leave any CFLs (or halogen lamps) burning when you’re not home.

CFL Mercury – Watch Your Feet!

I just stumbled on this link with the story of a man who dropped a too hot CFL globe lamp and could not avoid stepping on the mercury-contaminated glass as he stepped off the chair.

This “smaller than a ball point pen” amont of mercury, which CFL proponents try to dismiss as negligible and totally harmless, rotted away the man’s foot down to the bare bone!

(Warning! Very graphic pictures in the link so open at your own risk!)

Energy Saver Globe – Mercury Exposure

This could happen to you or your children or pets if a CFL was knocked over or dropped and accidentally stepped on.

Update 2014: It may have been the phosphor powder from the inside of the CFL tube which caused the foot to rot, as phosphor stops the blood from coagualting and the would from healing, in combination with the toxic mercury.

The Fluorescent Lighting System


Copy of an article posted yesterday on the Norway national television NRK website (translated from Norwegian):


These energy savers went out first

Nemko test of bulbs (Nemko)
10 of 50 bulbs has already gone out the long-term test. The picture was taken in the laboratory Nemko this week.

Compact fluorescent lamps from Osram Luxram and have poor life in long-term test.

Published 09/15/2012 17:15.

Every fifth bulb has gone out after only half of the specified lifetime. Bulbs from Luxram and Osram had especially poor performance in NRK test.

At the request of NRK Consumer Inspectors, Nemko tested the life of ten different bulbs. Five copies of each lamp were tested.

Now this long-term test has been going on for 5200 hours, which equates to almost five years in consumption if the bulbs are turned on for 2.7 hours each day.

10 of the 50 CFL bulbs have already packed it in, even though most of them are claimed last for 10,000 hours or more, according to information on the packages.

Five of the bulbs had gone out after only 2500 hours.

Luxram and Osram

In Nemko laboratory the bulbs are turned on and off at regular intervals, according to the international test standard.

The result so far allows two lamps stand out as very durable.

All five Luxram bulbs (11 W Energy Saver) has now gone out.

Compact fluorescent lamps from Osram and Luxram
All Luxram bulbs and three Osram bulbs have gone out at mid-term.

Moreover, three of the five bulbs from Osram (Duluxstar Mini Ball) have called it a night.

Approx price for these two bulbs were respectively 29 and 80 kroner, and both have a specified life of 10,000 hours.

One of five bulbs from Energetic (Energy Saver Warm White Bulb Classic) and one lamp of the North Light model from Clas Ohlson has gone out.

Best at other qualities

Although life is so-so, the Osram lamp became test winner as Nemko and NRK tested other qualities of a half ago.

The Osram bulb had good efficacy after both 100 and 1000 hours, and it starts quickly. Osram is admittedly more expensive than many of the others, but uses the least power in return. Read more about the test here.

– We regret the outcome of course, but are surprised by the result, says CEO Arvid Furru in Osram AS.

He questions the fact that only five bulbs of each brand tested. – If they originated from a batch that had a weakness, it may be an explanation for life. In Europe, selling tens of millions Osram series without errors each year, says Furru to NRK.no. He adds that Osram bulbs have three years warranty in Norway. – Customers may experience problems of this type, you switch to a new bulb by contacting us or the store where it was purchased, he said.

– Realistic

Lifetime of bulbs (Photo: Tor Risberg / NRK)
That the package says 10,000 hours / 10 years, does not mean you can expect a long life. Photo: Tor Risberg / NRK

 Luxram doing so badly is not surprising at all. Early in the test, it became clear that these bulbs have poor light output, which is further reduced after 1000 hours. And one of the five Luxram bulbs went out after only 1160 hours, said Erlend Lillelien, head of the knowledge center [national lighting industry representative] Lyskultur. He is more surprised Osram results. – The manufacturer is known for good quality, and these bulbs came out best in the remaining portion of the test. I hope the explanation for poor life is that Osram bulbs stems from a bad batch.

Head of Erlend Lillelien, Lyskultur (Lyskultur)
Information about life can be misleading, says Head of Erlend Lillelien in Lyskultur. Photo: Lyskultur

– But the test is realistic in the sense that all the bulbs are picked straight off the shelves, says Lillelien to NRK.no. He believes many consumers get the wrong impression when labels informs about a ‘life of 10,000 hours.’ – The internationally agreed definition of life is that half of the savings bulbs continue to burn after the 10,000 hours. It is not possible to produce bulbs with a guarantee that all last that long.

– Therefore, the information on the packaging to be rather confusing for the public, says Erlend Lillelien.

– Inadequate

Already in May, three of five Luxram bulbs burned out. CEO Frode Eng at Lampe magazine, which sells Luxram bulbs, admitted then that result is too bad. He, too, was surprised at the poor life, even if he thought it’s a bit unfair to compare the 29-kroner bulbs with others that cost far more.

– But of course we are unhappy with the result. Life indicated on the package of course should be valid, said Eng NRK.no the last time we summarized the test results. Now all Luxram bulbs in the test have burned out.

These are the other bulbs in the test, which have not yet gone out:

  • Philips Softone (T60WW827)
  • IKEA Sparsames
  • Megaman Ultra Compact Classic (GA911i)
  • FIXIT saving bulb
  • Biltema 11 W
  • Europris Power 9 W warm white

The test is still in progress. CFLi have an effect equivalent of between 48 and 60 watts compared with the old incandescent bulbs.


Halogenica comments:

1. Isn’t it funny that when tests reveal CFL bulbs to not last as long as claimed, the lighting industry representative “hopes” that it was due to “a bad batch”. How about a bad product?

2. And then the representative goes on to state: “The internationally agreed definition of life is that half of the savings bulbs continue to burn after the 10,000 hours. It is not possible to produce bulbs with a guarantee that all last that long. Therefore, the information on the packaging to be rather confusing for the public”.

Confusing is right! But I think fraudulent would be the correct word here. Imagine if the food or pharmaceutical industry said: “Half the products in this line may actually have gone bad by the expiration date. We understand that this must be confusing to our consumers, but it is not possible to produce a product that will keep until the marked expiration date.”

3. And the Luxram retailer thinks the test is unfair? While it does follow a certain logic that cheaper lamps can’t be expected to have the same quality as top brand bulbs, how is it unfair to expect a lamp to last as long as it says on the package? Especially when long life is one of its two major selling points?

4. Interesting also how the article author feels compelled to point out that the Osram lamp still made Best in Test on other qualities. Such as quick startup time and good brightness both after 100 and 1000 hours.

Well, a 100 hours into its life happens to be the peak of any fluorescent lamp’s life according to manufacturers, and good output after 1000 is no insurance of how good it will be after 3000 hours, or 5000 hours – if it lasts that long – or that it even gave as much light as promised in the beginning. Qualities such as colour rendition, dimmability etc are not mentioned at all. (Incandescent and halogen incandescent lamps are far superior in that regard, and startup time is not only quick but instant.)

I’m not at all surprised by these results. The CFL bulb models tend to lose more light and have shorter life than bare tube models due to being enclosed in that outer bulb, trapping heat which affects both life and brightness. And while the very thin diffusing layer on the inside of a frosted incandescent bulb has virtually no effect whatsoever on its light flow, adding another frosted bulb over the already semi opaque tubes has a marked light diminishing effect in CFLs.

It is simply a product which should never have been made, since there are already other lamps that do the same job so much much better.

Heat Replacement Effect Again

Friday evening, something rare happened in conformist Sweden (where no article may be published without praising the politically correct lamps):

On prime-time national news, a representative of the Swedish Energy Agency (one of the strongest anti-lightbulb forces in Sweden*) was caught blatantly lying about the incandescent lightbulb. Can be viewed here for another 5 days (at 9:55 in the clip): Rapport 31 Aug, 19:30 My description, transcription and translation to English, reporter in green, his narrative in citation marks:

News anchor: From tomorrow the lightbulbs will be gone. The Energy Agency thinks this is an important measure for the climate and claims this will save energy comparable to the heating of 80 000 houses. But it turns out that the Agency uses exaggerated and outright erroneous numbers.

Cue Energy Agency representative Peter Bennich, turning on a an incandescent bulb:

– Well, this is a very nice light source, but unfortunately it uses a lot of electricity. So therefore it will be phased out. 

Then an elderly man in a lamp shop is interviewed while buying incandescent lamps:

– You’re stockpiling?

– Yes, absolutely! These modern lamps are so horrible, strange colours and… 

Clip new picture of lawn mowing.

“Environmental bombs like old lawn mowers and two-stroke engines are allowed but lightbulbs are banned.”

Back to Peter Bennich again (filmed at the Agency in front of a huge flat screen TV):

– They waste so much. It’s like buying 10 liters of milk and throwing away 9 liters every day.

“Only 1/10 of the electricity is of any use in a light bulb, the rest is pure waste. This is what the Energy Agency says.” (Document of the statement is shown.) “And this way we will save 2 TWh, 10% of the electricity in Sweden. This is the equivalent of 80 000 [electricity-heated] private homes they claim.”

– It saves at least 80% compared with the other lamp, says Peter Bennich again (likely referring to the CFL or LED).

“But something has been forgotten….”

Back to the man in the lamp shop:

– I have electric heating at home. The radiators turn on less frequently when I have the lamps lit.

“Lasse is quite right. If a lot of the of the electricity used for lamps is turned into heat, it logically follows that one can just turn down radiators a little instead. Most Swedish houses need heading, during most of the year anyway.”

Back to the Energy Agency and Peter Bennich again to check:

– Is it true that 90 % is pure waste? 

– Yes, that is my opinion. 

“In the Energy Agency propaganda incandescent bulbs are presented as only wasteful.” (A leaflet is shown.) “But the Agency has made their own calculations that show that throughout a whole year, not all but about 50% of the heat from the lightbulb is useful.”

Presented with this undeniable fact, Peter Bennich tries to spin it the other way:

– Well, it turns out then that max 50% of the heat from incandescent lamps are of any use… 

“Oops, earlier it was 10% that was useful. The truth was 50%! Which means that then the 2 TWh savings are not true, and not the other numbers in the information either. For those who want to save energy at home, there are much worse climate villains than the little lightbulb.”

Then the reporter presents Bennich with an infrared heater and a lightbulb, and turns up the heat in his questions:

– If I use this [lightbulb] as a reading lamp for half an hour every day for a whole year except June, or use this [infrared heater] for one evening, which uses most electricity?

Without even a second’s hesitation Bennich replies:

– The incandescent bulb! 

– No.

– Yes, Bennich insists.

“Wrong again. My reading lamp uses 2.7 KWh per year in my example. The patio heater uses 3.6 KWh after only 3 hours!” 

“But”, the reporter seems compelled to add (probably to not get in trouble with his superiors), “if you look at all of Sweden, the ban can still save energy.”

He then lets Bennich get the last word (despite just having proven what that word is worth):

– Lighting uses a very large part of electricity use in Sweden. 

– It sounds as if we are not very good at turning the lights off when not in use?

– Yes! We Swedes are extra poor at turning lights off. 

***  The End  ***

Fascinating, isn’t it?

Note how the Energy Agency representative is extremely careful to use the word ‘electricity’ rather than ‘energy’. That is a very deliberate  and well-coordinated strategy in order to make lighting part sound more than it is, as electricity itself is only a smaller part of total energy consumption.

It’s not a lie but it’s not telling the whole truth either. The largest part of most households’ total energy consumption is space heating (or cooling in warmer areas) followed by water heating. Lighting is only a small fraction of the remaining household electricity. EU average according to official statistics, is less than 3% of total household energy use – of which an estimated 46% was already fluorescent or halogen at the time of the ban (!) according to the preparatory study that was used as foundation for the ban (see my post EU Energy Statistics for details and references).

What is also deceptively concealed is the fact that the largest lighting part of national electricity use is in the commercial, industrial, public building and road illumination sectors, which use the most number of lamps, the highest wattages, and keep them turned on for most of the day or night. And most lamps in these sectors is already fluorescent or gas discharge! Some of them can still be optimised with newer and more efficient lamps of the same or similar lamp groups, better control systems etc, and by being turned off when not in use. That’s where the real savings on lighting can and are being made!

Whereas the private sector lighting use is such a microscopic slice of the total energy pie that it can easily be saved without banning any lamps.

I am sadly becoming more and more convinced that this whole lamp issue is just a diversion to keep us all believing that both we and politicians have really made a difference now by switching a few lamps. The planet is saved and we can all go back to sleep and keep consuming as usual. While the multi-billion-dollar CFL and LED industry is laughing all the way to the bank.

When the truth is that no one wants to rock the boat and start restricting the things that really pollute and deplete resources. Such as petrol-fueled cars & airplanes and the gazillions of electrical gadgets, clothes, trinkets and junk food we’re continuously being prodded to buy more and more of. No restrictions there.


* The Swedish Energy Agency (STEM) has been leading the Swedish part of the global Market Transformation Programme (away from incandescent lamps) all through the 1990s until now. As I reported in The Global Anti-Lightbulb Campaign post, Kalle Hashmi, Executive Officer of Technology & Market Unit at the Swedish Energy Agency, in his Market Transformation Programme paper from 2006 admitted that:

STEM does not necessarily enjoy a commanding or trusted position vis-à-vis the consumers due to previous campaigns launched by STEM during the 90s. These campaigns may be summed as:

STEM engaged in ill conceived, inconsistent and ad-hoc promotions.
STEM did not take into account the consumer perspective but rather concentrated exclusively on energy efficiency and technical issues.
STEM relied indiscriminately on the information provided by the vendors.
STEM was very passive about dealing with CFL technology failures that affected main benefit claims.
STEM did not study, did not know or admit technology limitations.
STEM did not demand or work to establish minimum performance requirements.
STEM never questioned why long life claims were not backed by a guarantee.

And it seems that they’re still at it…

Blue Light Hazard?

The blue light issue has several aspects. First one needs to separate between the tiny bright blue diods used on some electronic devices, the blue-white light from white LEDs, CFLs and xenon arc car headlight lamps, and the (more or less) warm-white light from incandescent-mimicking CFL and LED.

This blog is primarily about replacement lamps for general illumination, not signal lights, monitor backlighting and the like, but the information on bright blue light may still be relevant for the cool-white light as well.

Blue light

Let’s start with the bright blue lamps. From the Wikipedia LED page:

Blue hazard: There is a concern that blue LEDs and cool-white LEDs are now capable of exceeding safe limits of the so-called blue-light hazard as defined in eye safety specifications such as ANSI/IESNA RP-27.1–05: Recommended Practice for Photobiological Safety for Lamp and Lamp Systems.

This web article Blue LEDs: A health hazard? explains the problems with bright blue light in detail:

Blue appears brighter at night

Firstly, blue light appears much brighter to us at night, or indoors where ambient light is low – an effect known as the Purkinje shift. This is because the rods – the sensitive monochromatic rod light detectors which our retinas rely on more at night – are most sensitive to greenish-blue light. (Some hypothesize that animals evolved the rods in underwater and jungle environments, hence the bias to blue or green – later we developed separate full color vision on top of that system, but the sensitive rods remained).

A practical example of the Purkinje Shift: a cool blue power LED on a TV might catch your eye and even attract you to buy it in a well-lit store. But after you take it home, the same LED appears distractingly bright when you watch the TV in a darkened room.

And blue is brighter in peripheral vision

The Purkinje shift also noticeably brightens blue or green lights in our peripheral vision under medium to low light conditions, because there are comparatively more rods towards the edge of the retina – hence complaints that blue LEDs are distracting even when they’re not the focus of attention.

“Glaring LEDs on displays that you need to see at night… that’s poor design,” says Brandon Eash. Remarkably though, it is a mistake that manufacturers continue to make.

Blue does not help you see clearly

We tend to associate blue with coolness, accuracy and clarity. But paradoxically, our eyes cannot focus blue sharply. We actually see a distracting halo around bright blue lights.

“It’s well recognized that blue light is not as sharply focused on the retina as the longer wavelengths. It tends to be focused in front of the retina, so it’s a little out of focus,” explains Dr. David Sliney, a US Army expert on the physiological effects of LEDs, lasers, and other bright light sources.

The various wavelengths of light focus differently because they refract at slightly different angles as they pass through the lens of the eye – an effect known as chromatic aberration.

For similar reasons, blue scatters more widely inside the eyeball, says Dr. Sliney, who answered questions by phone last year from his office at the US Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine in Maryland.

We’re half blind in blue

The modern human eye evolved to see fine detail primarily with green or red light. In fact, because we are poor at distinguishing sharp detail in blue, our eyes don’t really try. The most sensitive spot on the retina, the fovea centralis, has no blue light-detecting cones. That’s right: we’re all color blind in the most sensitive part of our eyes.

In addition, the central area of the retina, the macula, actually filters out some blue light in an effort to sharpen our vision. Snipers and marksmen sometimes improve on nature by wearing yellow-tinted ‘shooters glasses’, which block the distracting blue light.

“You throw away a little bit of color information in order to have a sharper view of things,” explains Dr. Sliney.

Blue glare interferes with vision

The twin effects of fuzzy focus and blue scatter both make intense blue light from a point source, like an LED, spread out across the retina, obscuring a much wider part of our visual field.

Although our retinas simply don’t handle blue very well, nobody told the rest of the eye that. If blue is the strongest color available and we want to see fine detail, then we strain our eye muscles and squint trying to pull the blue into shaper focus. Try to do this for too long and you’ll probably develop a nauseating headache. This won’t happen in a normally lit scene, because the other colors provide the sharp detail we naturally desire.

A dazzling pain in the eye

By the way, the physical pain some people feel from high intensity discharge (HID) car headlights and particularly intense blue LEDs seems to be a combination of these focus and scatter effects, together with a third. We have a particularly strong aversion reaction to bright blue light sources, including bluish-white light. “Pupilary reflex is down in the blue [part of the spectrum]. The strongest signal to the muscles in the iris to close down comes from the blue,” says Dr. Sliney.

Intense blue light can cause long-term photochemical damage to the retina. Now, nobody is claiming that you’re likely to suffer this kind of injury from a normal blue LED (unless you stare fixedly at it from a few millimetres for an hour). However, it is theorized that this may be the evolutionary driving force behind the immediate feeling of pain we get from bright light with a very strong blue component.

Our body’s instinctive reaction is to reduce blue light entering the eye by closing down the pupil. This means that blue light spoils night vision. After a brief flash of blue, you can’t see other colors so well for a while.

White light

When it comes to lamps for general illumination, the issue gets more complex. Cool-white or daylight-mimicking indoor illumination may not be as good for vision as previously assumed. But can it be harmful?

CELMA-ELC-GLA (lighting industry):

In June, PLDA Greenpages blog reported on new studies that “have concluded that LEDs present no greater optical hazard than other common artificial lighting sources”. The link required business and registration to be accessed, but the abstract appears to be the same as in this March 2012 white paper of the Global Lighting Association on The Optical & Photobiological Effects of LED, CFLs and Other High Efficiency General Lighting Sources, which in turn appears to be fairly identical to the July 2011 position statement from CELMA and ELC (European luminare and lamp manufacturers, respectively): Optical safety of LED lighting.

If it is the same document, I wouldn’t exactly call it a study as it only gives technical explanations of why LEDs and CFLs belong to risk groups 0 or 1, which may be correct, but cites no studies on actual health effects; it’s all just extrapolation of their own data. Quoting some relevant parts of the document (not all in original order):

Potential effects on the eye
Commonly discussed hazards affecting the eye are blue light hazard (BLH) and age‐related macular degeneration (AMD) which can be induced or aggravated by high intensity blue light. Furthermore, UV (ultraviolet) may affect the eye, causing cataract or photokeratitis (sunburn of the cornea); IR (infrared) radiation can induce IR cataract (also known as glassblower’s cataract); and, radiation of all wavelengths can lead to retinal thermal injuries at extreme intensities.

Potential effects on the skin
Optical radiation, particularly UV can be harmful to the skin. By far the most hazardous source to consider is the sun. Sunburns (UV erythema) and skin cancers due to long‐term exposure to the sun are well‐known problems caused by radiation. Moreover, patients with autoimmune diseases such as lupus or photodermatoses can be highly sensitive to UV radiation, and sometimes also blue light. There is concern among some patients who suffer from such sensitivities that phasing out of the known incandescent lamps will leave them without lamps for indoor use that are low in radiation of UV and blue light. 

4.1 Conclusions on blue light emission
Evaluation at a distance producing 500 Lux: Taking the 500 Lux criterion as the measurement basis, none of the LED products belongs to risk group 2. This was also confirmed by a study of the French agency for food, environmental and occupational health & safety (ANSES) in 2010 which found that even high‐output discrete LEDs are classified into risk groups 0 or 1 if the 500 Lux criterion is applied.

Precautionary measures with regard to children
The lens of a child’s eye filters blue light less efficiently than an adult’s lens. Children are thus more sensitive to blue light hazard. Therefore, at places frequented by children particular care must be taken to ensure that lamps and luminaires are chosen and installed in such a way as to avoid people looking directly into the light source. It is not necessary that LEDs (or blue light in general) are avoided in an environment with children present, for the reasons stated above. If used across a broad surface or area, in a way which does not produce glare, even “pure” blue light is completely harmless; regardless of whether it is the blue in daylight or produced by LEDs or other light sources.

Guidance for people with high sensitivity for blue light
The above statements are valid for healthy people in the general public. People with highly sensitive skin or eyes for blue light may be wise to investigate alternative light sources that operate on a more specific radiation band not covered by the applied action curves that cover a broad range of radiations. The comparative data given in the annexes of this paper serve to give guidance in selecting the best available type of light source for a given sensitivity.

The biological importance of blue light
It needs to be mentioned that blue light exposure is important to human beings. Blue light with a peak around 460‐480nm regulates the biological clock, alertness and metabolic processes. CELMA‐ELC has installed a special working group to translate these findings into practical application norms and standards. In natural conditions, outdoor daylight fulfils this function. Yet, people spend most of the day indoors (offices etc.) and are often lacking the necessary blue light exposure. Blue and cool white light sources can be used to create lighting conditions such that people will receive their daily portion of blue light to keep their physiology in tune with the natural day‐night rhythm. Due to the highly flexible application possibilities, LED based light sources are particularly well suited for that purpose. 

Annex 3: Blue light radiation data of light sources
When evaluating the risk of blue light hazard posed by LED (and other) light sources, two fundamentally different cases need to be considered:

Case A: Looking at an illuminated scene
[…] Case A can generally be considered safe. To give an example, looking at the scattered blue sky (high blue irradiance but low radiance) is completely safe, and so are artificial light sources, containing way less blue irradiance than daylight.

Case B: Looking at a light source
[…] Looking straight at a light source (case B) is also in general safe for diffuse and warm white light sources, like frosted or white diffusing lamps. Yet, caution is advisable for cool white or blue, bright (high intensity), point‐like light source, for instance an incandescent filament, electric arc or an LED die, even an LED die behind the lens of a directional lamp.  Such point‐like sources are projected on the retina as a concentrated light spot and can damage that spot on the retina when the intensity is high enough and the spectrum contains blue light in congruence with the blue light hazard action spectrum curve.

4.2 Conclusions on ultraviolet radiation (UV) 
LED based light sources do not emit any UV radiation (unless specifically designed for that particular purpose). Therefore, they are not harmful to people with a specific sensitivity for certain UV radiation and can bring relief to certain groups of patients. In this respect, LED based light sources provide advantages over traditional incandescent, halogen and Compact Fluorescent lamps. For more details see Annex 2.

4.3 Conclusions on infrared radiation (IR)
In contrast to most other light sources, e.g. halogen and incandescent lamps, LEDs hardly emit IR light (unless specifically designed to emit a certain type of IR). For available types of indoor light sources the IR radiation is not powerful enough to pose any risks to human.

To summarize the key findings, LED sources (lamps or systems) and luminaires are safe to the consumer when used as intended.

Which is: Don’t sit too close to a UV-emitting light source. Don’t look straight into cool-white or bright light sources (risk increases with proximity, brightness and time). Always use low-voltage halogen mini bulbs and halogen mini tubes on luminaires with glass cover (regular glass filters out the UVC which the quartz glass lets through). Use warm-white LED, CFL or halogen in frosted outer bulb if UV-sensitive.

In terms of their level of photo biological safety, LED lamps are no different from traditional technologies such as incandescent lamps and fluorescent tubes. The portion of blue in LED is not different from the portion of blue in lamps using other technologies at the same colour temperature.

The last sentence seems a bit tautologous as otherwise it would not have the same colour temperature. How the blue portion can be “the same” for same colour temperature LED and incandescent despite their different spectral power distribution is given an explanation:

White LEDs typically show a peak in the blue (at around 450 nm when a royal blue LED is used) and more broadband emission in the green/yellow part of the spectrum. Next to the blue peak, a dip is visible at around 490nm that also falls under the BLH action curve (…). The blue peak of the LED lamps is “compensated” by the dip, therefore the total blue output (…) of LED of 2700K is comparable to an incandescent lamp of 2700K.

This still does not make the spectrum exactly the same, even if the net result is a similar blueness. And most LEDs available on the home market is very much bluer than the 2700 K of the very best (and most unaffordable) warm-white LEDs. 

Nevertheless, looking straight into bright, point‐like sources (LEDs, but also other strong point‐like light sources, like clear filament or discharge lamps and including the sun) should be prevented. However, when people happen to look into a bright light source accidentally, a natural protective reflex occurs (people instinctively close their eyes or look away from the source).

True enough.

A comparison of LED retrofit products to the traditional products they are intended to replace reveals that the risk levels are very similar and well within the uncritical range.

But that was for the 6 watt warm-white LED in a frosted outer bulb included in the comparison. White 4000 K LEDs and directional high power LEDs, as well as other bright point light sources, including clear tungsten filament lamps, fall into risk group 1.

The bar chart included in the document shows that the higher the CCT, the higher the blue light hazard, regardless of light source (as would be expected);

(Two other bar charts (fig. 5 & 6) quite strangely compared frosted warm-white LED lamps with clear incandescent lamps, in order to make incandescent light appear to to have more blue light, rather than to compare it with the other point-like sources. In those charts, the frosted incandescent lamp seemed to be the safest.)


In 2011, the European Commissions Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (one of the independent scientific committees of the European Commission, which provide scientific advice to the Commission on consumer products) issued an updated report on Health Effects of Artificial Light which seems partly based on the information given by European Lamp Companies Federation, ELC (extracts, emphases added):


A: Potential health impacts on the general public caused by artificial light

In general, the probability is low that artificial lighting for visibility purposes induces acute pathologic conditions, since expected exposure levels are much lower than those at which effects normally occur, and are also much lower than typical daylight exposures. Certain lamp types (quartz halogen lamps, single- and double-capped fluorescent lamps as well as incandescent light bulbs) may emit UV radiation, although at low levels. However, according to a worst case scenario the highest measured UV emissions from lamps used typically in offices and schools [usually fluorescent tubes] could add to the number of squamous cell carcinomas in the EU population.

Household lighting involves an illumination level which is so low that exposure to potentially problematic radiation is considered negligible. There is no consistent evidence that long-term exposure to sunlight (specifically the blue component) may contribute to age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Whether exposure from artificial light could have effects related to AMD is uncertain.

No evidence was found indicating that blue light from artificial lighting belonging to Risk Group 0 (“exempt from risk”) would have any impact on the retina graver than that of sunlight. Blue light from improperly used lamps belonging to Risk Groups 1, 2, or 3 could, in principle, induce photochemical retinal damage in certain circumstances. There is however no evidence about the extent to which this is actually occurring in practical situations.

There is mounting evidence suggesting that ill-timed exposure to light (light-at-night) may be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, and can also cause sleep disorders, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular disorders, and possibly affective states. Importantly, these effects are directly or indirectly due to light itself, without any specific correlation to a given lighting technology.

But bluer light (such as from cool-white or daylight LEDs and CFLs) has a greater effect on melatonin, even at very low intensities if used at night (see Circadian Rhythms below).

B: Aggravation of the symptoms of pathological condition

The SCENIHR opinion on Light Sensitivity identified that some pre-existing conditions (epilepsy, migraine, retinal diseases, chronic actinic dermatitis, and solar urticaria) could be exacerbated by flicker and/or UV/blue light. At that time there was no reliable evidence to suggest that compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) could be a significant contributor. More recent studies indicate a negative role for certain CFLs and other artificial light sources (sometimes including incandescent bulbs) in photosensitive disease activity.

UV, and in some patients, visible light can induce skin lesions of true photodermatoses. Although sunlight is reported by most patients as the main source of disease activity, artificial lighting is reported to play a role in some cases. The blue or UV components of light tend to be more effective than red components in aggravating skin disease symptoms related to pre-existing conditions such as lupus erythematosus, chronic actinic dermatitis and solar urticaria. UV and/or blue light could also possibly aggravate the systemic form of lupus erythematosus. It is recommended that all patients with retinal dystrophy should be protected from light by wearing special protective eyeware that filters the shorter and intermediate wavelengths.

3.3.3. Lamp emissions

Based on emissions from the lamp, the Standard EN 62471 (and also IEC 62471 and CIE S009, since they are all identical in this sense) categorizes the lamps according to the photo-biological hazard that they might pose. The different hazards are:

1. Actinic UV-hazard for eye and skin (see section;
2. UVA-hazard for the eye (section;
3. Blue-light hazard for the retina (section;
4. Thermal retina hazard (section and
5. IR-hazard for the eye (sections and

According to the standards, measurements should be performed according to two approaches; viz. at a distance where a light intensity of 500 lx is obtained and also at a distance of 20 cm (…). Based on these measurements, lamps are then classified according to the “Risk Group” (RG) to which they belong. RG0 (exempt from risk) and RG1 (minor risk) lamps do not pose any hazards during normal circumstances. RG2 (medium risk) lamps also do not pose hazards because of our aversion responses to very bright light sources, or due to the fact that we would experience thermal discomfort. RG3 (high risk) include only lamps where a short-term exposure poses a hazard. This classification is based on acute exposure responses (a single day, up to 8 hours) and applies only to individuals of normal sensitivity.

The contribution from the European Lamp Companies Federation (ELC) included six lamp types from eight manufacturers, considered by ELC to be “representative lamp types”. Assessment of effects on the healthy eye


Discomfort glare does not impair visibility but causes an uncomfortable sensation that causes the observer to look away from the glaring source. It increases when the light source is facing the observer.

Disability glare is due to the light scattering within the ocular media which creates a veil that lowers any contrast and renders viewing impossible.

The luminance of the sky is rather stable at about 5,000 cd/m2. This value can be exceeded on bright surfaces on clear days when luminance can reach several tens of thousands cd/m2. The sun is never viewed directly except when it is at sunrise or at sunset when its luminance is about the same as the sky and its colour temperature low or moderate. 

It is when both the luminance and the colour temperature of the light are high that the blue light hazard increases.

The UV/blue light risk on the healthy majority is considered by ELC to be very low and SCENIHR accepts this, but with some questions regarding high power LEDs, wrong use and “non-representative lamps” (= lamps other than the “representative lamps” submitted to SCENIHR by the ELC):

The results presented in the ELC report suggest to SCENIHR that there is little or no risk to individuals of normal sensitivity from the UV, IR or blue light optical radiation emission from lamps which are considered to be “representative” of the type of lamps selected to replace incandescent lamps. SCENIHR however considers that “non-representative” lamps may emit levels that are much higher than those included in the report; however quality control limits applied by lamp manufacturers were not reported. Further consideration should also be given to the “intended” vs. “reasonable foreseeable” use of lamps. Further consideration also needs to be given to the risk classification of high power LEDs. Also, halogen lamps that are intended to be used with an external glass filter must not be used without the filter because of the risk of exposure to UV radiation. Circadian rhythms

Recent studies indicate that ill-timed exposures to even low levels of light in house-hold settings may be sufficient for circadian disruptions in humans.

A comparison between the effects of living room light (less than 200 lx) and dim light (<3 lx) before bedtime showed that exposure to room light suppressed melatonin levels and shortened the duration of melatonin production in healthy volunteers (18-30 years) (Gooley et al. 2011).

Cajochen et al. (2011) compared the effects of a white LED-backlit screen with more than twice the level of blue light (462 nm) emission to a non-LED screen on male volunteers. Exposure to the LED-screen significantly lowered evening melatonin levels and suppressed sleepiness.

In another study from the same group (Chellappa et al. 2011) 16 healthy male volunteers were exposed to cold white CFLs (40 lx at 6,500 K) and incandescent lamps (40 lx at 3,000 K) for two hours in the evening. The melatonin suppression was significantly greater after exposure to the 6,500 K light, suggesting that our circadian system is especially sensitive to blue light even at low light levels (40 lx)

However, no study has investigated whether the impact of warm white CFLs and LEDs (2,700-3,000 K) on melatonin suppression is in any way different from that of incandescent lamps.


There is a moderate overall weight of evidence that ill-timed exposure to light (light-at-night), possibly through circadian disruption, may increase the risk of breast cancer. 

There is furthermore moderate overall weight of evidence that exposure to light-at-night, possibly through circadian disruption, is associated with sleep disorders, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular disorders, and with affective disorders

The overall evidence for other diseases is weak due to the lack of epidemiological studies.

It seems that bright white light in the daytime can be helpful in keeping one alert for work (though preferably the real thing rather than a daylight-mimicking copy). But at night – very bad idea! Unless you’re doing shift work and really need to stay awake.

I have started noticing the effect of bright white light at night. My macbook has a LED screen and the cool-white background on most pages tends to be a very bright. Great in the daytime, not so great at night… So I’ve installed the f.lux app that adjusts the screen light temperature to follow the sunset at one’s particular location, and a similar app for my OLED screen Android.

I also try and make sure to get enough real daylight in the daytime and then I dim indoor lights more and more as the evening progresses. With these simple measures, my very easily disrupted circadian rhythm has gotten markedly more normal, almost miraculously so.

ANSES (France):

The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety have issued official warnings about selling white LED lamps to the general public due to the toxic effect of blue light.

The principal characteristic of diodes sold for lighting purposes is the high proportion of blue in the white light emitted and their very high luminance (“brightness”). The issues of most concern identified by the Agency concern the eye due to the toxic effect of blue light and the risk of glare.

The blue light necessary to obtain white LEDs causes toxic stress to the retina. Children are particularly sensitive to this risk, as their crystalline lens is still developing and is unable to filter the light efficiently.

These new lighting systems can produce “intensities of light” up to 1000 times higher than traditional lighting systems, thus creating a risk of glare. The strongly directed light they produce, as well as the quality of the light emitted, can also cause visual discomfort.

Blue pollution

From the Wikipedia LED page:

Blue pollution: Because cool-white LEDs with high color temperature emit proportionally more blue light than conventional outdoor light sources such as high-pressure sodium vapor lamps, the strong wavelength dependence of Rayleigh scattering means that cool-white LEDs can cause more light pollution than other light sources. The International Dark-Sky Association discourages using white light sources with correlated color temperature above 3,000 K.

So, no cool-white LED or metal halide streetlights please!

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

Swedish Mercury

CFL recycling problem update

I wanted to know more about the previously reported recycling problems where people throw CFLs in glass recycling containers in Sweden (same as reported in Denmark a few years ago).

So I called Svensk Glasåtervinning and asked. They said this is still a big problem for them. They had found elevated mercury values in several locations of their recycling facility. I asked about the health of their workers and they said they had been tested for Hg but were OK. The person I spoke with pointed out however, that by the time the glass arrives at the factory, much will already have evaporated and possibly affected the trucking entrepreneurs who collect the containers. I suspect also those using the local recycling facility – some of which are indoors (in residential buildings).

I asked if they had tested the containers (in Sweden called “glass-igloos” due to their round shape). He said that doing such a test had not occurred to them, but that it was a good idea to test at least a few of the thousands of igloos used around Sweden. (I’m thinking that if containers are contaminated by Hg that they may keep contaminating ever new batches of glass, at least in the cold season when it does not evaporate?) Some of that glass is turned into new food grade glass, some into what we call “glass wool” (not sure of the English word) for house insulation.

He said that they do not get reimbursed for all the extra risk, cost and trouble that Hg contamination causes to their glass recycling, and that they were rather frustrated with those who have the producer responsibility not having done enough to inform the general public and supply enough easily accessible recycling opportunities for CFLs.

When it comes to outdoor recycling stations, they are prohibited from doing so by the fact that Hg is classed as hazardous waste, and we can’t have hazardous waste containers sitting unattended on the sidewalk. And so many of those who are not fortunate enough to have a separate bulb recycling bin in their residential building, or a ‘red box’ collected by the local municipality for home owners, throw their CFLs in the glass container instead as many don’t have time, knowledge, opportunity or transportation to take them to an out-of-the-way recycling plant or to one of the often equally out-of-the-way retail chains who collect bulbs for proper recycling (after which the Hg is stored indefinitely).

So I called El-Kretsen, the organisation that has been appointed in Sweden to handle the so-called producer responsibility (according to the WEEE directive). The representative said they are working hard to remedy the situation (and have a PR webpage bragging about this). I suggested they mail all residential building owners in Sweden with information on the importance of adding (and paying a little extra for) a hazardous waste bin in their recycling rooms, information on how to handle mercury contamination, and signs to put up to inform residents. He seemed to think this right-to-the-source approach was way too much work and referred to their their own information- and annual electronic waste collection campaign.

CFL breakage information

After hearing from an aquaintance spotting someone drop a CFL in a supermarket, I thought I’d find out how the leading food chains in Sweden handle such accidents.

Ica’s website has a CFL info page (complete with the usual propaganda lies) that includes info on both recycling and what to do in case of accidents. I called their HQ to ask if it happens that lamps break in their stores and she said “Yes”. I asked if their staff was informed on what to do and she said they were actually planning an information campaign in a few weeks.

Coop’s website only refers to a recycling site for what to do with CFLs after they burn out, nothing about how to handle mercury spills. I called and asked. They said information has been sent out to stores, but when I called one of the biggest Coop supermarkets in Stockholm, the manager could not recall having seen any such information. He said there were no breakages that he was aware of. I asked what they would do if there were and he said “Just sweep up the pieces and throw in the garbage, I guess”-  and also confessed to just tossing burned-out CFLs in the bin at home. I informed him of the mercury content and that mercury is hazardous waste. This jolted a memory that perhaps he’d heard something to that effect… I asked if he could make sure to inform his staff from now on, but he said such an incentive needs to come from HQ. So I tipped HQ off that their biggest competitor is having a campaign soon.

When you think about it, isn’t it rather stunning and alarming that a fairly easily breakable product containing mercury is sold together with food

“CFLs an environmental problem”

This piece of news announced in Swedish press and TV makes me really worried about our future, as it supercedes even my worst fears:

SvD 21 november 2011

Every year 200 000 CFLs are wrongly thrown into glass recycling bins, according to an analysis by Swedish Glassrecycling (SGÅ). This means a health risk for those who work with recycling and a risk that the environmental toxin is spreads in the natural environment, according to Svenska Dagbladet.

The motive for replacing incandescent bulbs with CFLs was to save electricity and thereby save the environment, but environmental expert Minna Gillberg condemns the drive for CFLs as “absurd”.

This means a risk not just to recycling workers but actually to everyone. Especially when the recycling bins are indoors, since mercury vaporises at room temperature and contaminates the surrounding area pretty much permanently.

And note: This is happening in SWEDEN  – where we have extremely well organised recycling practices and pride ourselves on being informed, consciensious and spearheading environmental awareness! If even we can’t do it, then again I shudder to imagine what happens to CFLs in poorer countries where many may not even be literate, much less care what happens to their burned-out lamps, or know what to do if they did.

The CFL is a toxic product that should never have been allowed on the market! 

Earlier posts about the mercury in CFLs:




CFL Fire Hazard

My translation of a news clip from Swedish national television, SVT titled Lågenergilampan – en brandrisk:

The CFL – a fire hazard

The compact fluorescent lamp is becoming more common in Swedish homes, with the phase out of the incandescent bulb. But the lamp has proven to be a fire hazard in itself.

The problem with CFLs is that the plastic surrounding it easily burns at high temperatures.

– Unfortunately it leads to many bigger fires when the plastic starts burning. In some cases there is only a smaller incident but those in turn may lead to more damaging fires. In the worst case scenrio people can die if you’re in a house and don’t get out in time, says fire investigator David Wiklund at Södertörn’s fire department to Rapport.

Common cause

Counted in numbers, fires started by lamps is a big problem. Between 1996 and 2008 1 033 fires were started by lamps. During the same period, only 96 fires were stared by coffee machines and 63 by irons.

How many of these were started by CFLs specifically, the statisics does not tell us. But a CFL is filled with technology which may catch fire – and the lamp [base] is enclosed by plastic.

In Sweden there are no rules requiring the lamp to go out by itself at high temperatures.

David Widlund wishes there were stricter regulations for the lamps than what currently exists.

-It is not at all good to have a type of plastic in the lamps that may catch fire. We would rather see a fire-proof plastic, he says.

Regulation lagging behind

As incandescent bulbs are phased out, the demand for CFLs has increased. But regulation has not caught up.

-There has been little awareness of these problems, they have only arisen as demand has increased to rapidly. But STEM, the Swedish Energy Authority, will inform the EU commision about these problems, says Kalle Hashmi who is lighting expert at STEM.

Today there is nothing one can do to make sure the lamp doesn’t start burning. The safety markings on the CFLs themselves give no guarantee.

-Compared to an incandescent bulb which in itself cannot burn, we are replacing it with this product which can start burning. That is of course a poorer alternative, David Wiklund thinks.

For those of us with lighting as a special interest, this is old news. [1]

However, to be fair, most of the fires mentioned in the statistics above were probably started by wrongly installed recessed halogen lights, or by halogen spotlights used too close to something burnable. They get very hot and the focused beam needs at least 50 cm distance or more. Recessed halogen lights should always be installed by an electrician. Especially dicroic halogen lamps where the heat is reflected backwards to avoid getting too hot in the direction of the beam; instead these get very hot at the base and constitute a fire hazard if not installed correctly, with enough ventilation. If a wrongly installed lamp is found after a fire, your home insurance company may hold you responsible and I’m sure you can guess what that means. [2]

But back to CFLs. Many appear to have some safety thing that makes them give off a lot of foul smelling smoke as they go out but not actually burn. But if they do catch fire to the point where the glass cracks, that will add the additional hazard of releasing its mercury vapour content into the air.

Do use all lamps with care:

• Always follow safety instructions.

• Don’t use a higher wattage lamp than the luminaire is marked for.

• Don’t install recessed spotlights yourself.

• Don’t use halogen spotlights too close to anything burnable (including house plants, which may dry out if not burn).

• Don’t let children handle CFLs or halogen lamps, and do not use such lamps in luminaires which may get knocked over by playing children or pets.

• Be  extra careful with lamps left on when you’re asleep or not home. Don’t leave lamps with a paper shade unattended. Safest (and most economical) lamp to leave on would be LEDs which do not get hot at all.


1. Should There Be a Ban on Incandescent Light?

2. “Populära lampor kostar försäkringsbolagen miljoner” (Swedish article called “Popular lamps cost insurance companies millions”)

Osram LCA study

The recently released OSRAM Life Cycle Assessment study (executive summary) appears to be one of the most comprehensive studies so far. However, it still isn’t done properly.

The 3 base-cases which the whole study hinges upon have all the usual flaws:

For comparability reasons in the study, it was assumed that all three lamps would have a light output between 345 to 420 lm during their whole lifetime, and then burn out.”

a) Very low lumen lamps were chosen in this study, most likely because Osram still can’t make an LED produce more light than the equivalent of an 25W incandescent, which is good for absolutely nothing. A 25W incandescent can be used for mood lighting, an 8W LED can’t be used for anything but a scary night light.

b) A 40W tandard incandescent bulb gives 410 lumen (xenon-filled bulbs an extra 10%) whereas a typical high quality 7-8W CFL gives around 350 lumen and a 7-8W LED around the same, or less.

c) And then CFLs and LEDs lose output with age – more the longer they last. For example, in a Swedish consumer test (Råd & Rön 3/2008) a 7W Osram Superstar classic A CFLs had lost 27% of their initial output after 6000 hours.

“An extra analysis was done that took the gradual reduction of brightness into account. The difference was too small to impact results, though.”

Ah, but that’s only because very low lumen lamps were chosen for the study. The higher output lamps you compare, the more CFLs and LEDs tend to lose with age. And as they were already weaker than an equivalent 40W to begin with, this adds to the difference. A 27% decrease is not negligible!

Thus, it is not a correct comparison and all following numbers and conclusions in the study equally faulty.

“To ensure comparability of the three lamp types a lifetime of 25,000 hours was taken a reference parameter which was evened out by the number of lamps used. This way, the lifetime of 25 incandescent bulbs (25,000 hours) equals the lifetime of 2.5 compact fluorescent lamps, which equals the lifetime of one Parathom LED lamp.”

a) Halogen Energy Savers, which last 2000-3000 hours and use 25-45% less energy, were not included!

b) Maybe some of Osram’s long-life CFL models last 10 000 hours if just left burning, but as it is explicitly stated that “turn-on-and-off cycles were excluded from the study” and an Osram representative confirmed the earlier study that showed frequent switching may shorten life with up to 85%…

c) We only have Osram’s word for their LED lasting 25 000 hours…

“..a correlated color temperature between 2700 – 3000 K (warm white), a colour rendering index of ≥ 80 and a Classic A shape with E27 socket. All lamps provide comparable luminous flux and all are warm white lamps but the fact of a cold perception of the light from different emission spectra of the lamp types is not considered.”

In other words: besides not being equal in output, these 3 lamp base-cases are not comparable quality-wise, or even appearance-wise, only in bulb-shape & socket.

a) CRI ≥ 80 = mediocre colour rendering capacity in CFL and LED, to be compared with CRI 99-100 for incandescent and halogen.

b) As Osram does not state exactly which model CFL and LED they have used, t’s hard to know what that specific lamp looks like. The ones I’ve seen so far (see my Energy savers review) have not been comparable to incandescent light colour, radiance and quality, even if CFLs have improved markedly over the last decade and Osram makes some of the most incandescent-like CFLs on the market.

“The production of the GLS and CFL takes place in Europe. For the Parathom LED lamp, production of the Golden Dragon LEDs is located in Germany (frontend) and Malaysia (backend) and the production of the LED lamp in China. The location of the use phase, end of life, and any other processes was Europe.”

This may be true of Osram CFLs, but most CFLs on the market are either low-budget lamps imported from China or manufacturers have their factories there. Sylvania says their ballasts are manufacturered in different places and sent to be assembled into CFLs in another, sometimes another country.

“The heating benefit of a GLS always leads to a discussion. This chapter estimates the actual benefit of heating losses during usage. By assuming 250 heating days, 1000 hours of GLS burning time per year, 75% GLS lighting during heating days, and heating with natural gas, it would lead to a reduction of 17 kg CO2 over 25.000 hours. This saved amount is negligible in comparison to the whole life cycle, and there is no reason to hold on that argument. Furthermore, the heating benefit could also serve as a disadvantage when cooling is necessary.”

At least they mention the heat replacement effect, even if they consider it “negligible” – except when it needs to be air-conditioned away, then it suddenly counts (as always).

Poor power factor is not even mentioned.

With correction for the above factors, the outcome would be less advantageous for the LED and CFL.

Yes, they may still save something when compared with the poorest performing incandescents – a matter of quantity vs quality – but not nearly as much as claimed in this biased study, and even less when compared to the best halogen energy savers.

What could be expected? Osram is a lamp manufacturer well known to want to sell more CFLs and LEDs and get rid of the unprofitable incandescent lamps altogether.

Sorry Osram, it was an admirable effort, but do try to get your basic numbers right the next time and the results may be more belieavble, even if not as spectacular.

P.S. When do we get to see the whole study and not just the summary?

Mercury Problem Worse Than Suspected

Mercury contamination of your home

It now appears that a broken CFL at home is actually more cause for worry than previously thought.

After the now infamous (and cited ad nauseam) accident in Maine, the Maine DEP had its own science team test how much mercury is actually left in a room after breaking a CFL on floors with and without carpets, which resulted in revised cleanup recommendations:

Revised Cleanup Guidance
Maine Compact Fluorescent Lamp Breakage Study (the original report)
Mercury in CFLs – special investigation (long and scary reading, including summary of the Maine Report + interviews & addintional info collected by Invesitate Magazine TV, New Zeeland)
New Electric Politics: The mercury issue (shorter summary of the summary)

Some quotes from the Investigate Magazine summary [my emphases]:

“First off, the often-cited claim that bulbs contain only 5mg of mercury was clarified: it’s an average. (..) The average amount of mercury in a CFL is 5 mg with a range of 0.9 to 18 mg. Obviously, the smaller (in watts) the bulb, the less mercury. Higher power (brighter) bulbs generally have more, although there can be fluctuations between brands as well.”

“‘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,’ the report confirms.

That’s up to 300 times higher than the recommended safe level of inhalable mercury vapour. From just one light bulb. According to the DEP scientific study, while the 300 ng/m3 limit is the maximum allowable daily dose of mercury for the sake of legislation, there is in fact no known safe level for mercury exposure.”

“To put the exposure in perspective, a study of workers who had been exposed on a regular basis to 33,000 nanograms/m3 of mercury (roughly a third of the 100,000 ng/m3 peak caused by a broken bulb), and compared in a neurological test to a control group of 70 unexposed people, found they scored worse on ‘mental arithmetic, 2-digit search, switching attention, visual choice reaction time and finger tapping’.”

‘Sensitive populations are of particular concern with mercury exposures for a number of reasons.’ ‘Elderly and unhealthy individuals may already be at comprised health and be more susceptible to mercury effects than a healthy individual. For example, mercury does kidney damage which could exacerbate an already existing kidney disease’.

‘Infants and toddlers have much more vulnerable brains.’ ‘Mercury exposures have serious impacts on fetal and infant brain development. Elemental mercury can cross the placenta from a mother to fetus.’ ‘It is well established that the developing organism may be much more sensitive than the adult to neurotoxic agents,’ reports Maine’s DEP study. ‘For example, methylmercury exposure can produce devastating effects in the fetus, including cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness, and even death, while producing no or minimal effects in the mother‘.

“The report also noted that following official clean-up guidelines was still not good enough to eliminate the pollution.

‘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’.

“[T]he scientists note that the mercury contamination was considerably worse – nearly double in fact – at summertime temperatures (32C) than winter (23C).”

“Additionally (and this is why carpets have to be destroyed), the scientific team repeatedly vacuumed carpets where bulbs had broken, to see if vacuuming did eliminate the residue. They found that even after several attempts, the mercury was still trapped in the carpet fibres. To make matters worse, some of the vacuum cleaners were so contaminated that cleaning them was impossible, meaning not only was the carpet over and out, so was the vacuum cleaner.”

‘If clothing or bedding materials come in direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powder from inside the bulb that may stick to the fabric, the clothing or bedding should be thrown away,’ warns the US EPA.

“Maine state government now officially recommends 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.’

“Then there’s the problem of what to do with the toxic waste. 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.”

Brandy Bridges: ‘They’re not as eco-friendly as we’d like to think. Just the fact that they’re being shipped in trucks and who knows how many cases get dropped? You’re in your local hardware store, and they’re broken on the floor, and you’re walking by unknowing that there’s mercury there, that people are just walking by and breathing in, and a lot of people don’t have a clue’.”

“Perhaps the most dangerous aspect to the CFL mercury issue, however, is not the instant ‘spike’ exposure caused by a breakage, but the effect of a string of breakages over the years on the toxicity of suburban homes. Picture a low income family (…) forced to use CFLs because of the light bulb ban and because they cannot afford even more expensive halogens. Picture a breakage, then try and estimate the odds of a stressed out (or drugged up) householder following proper clean-up and disposal procedures.

“Then picture a few more breakages over the years, none of them dealt with properly. Then try and figure out how much mercury might accumulate in the carpets, floorboards and walls of such a house over a 20 year span. Then try and figure out the impact such poisoning might have on every family that moves through that house, and how many taxpayer dollars might be wasted dealing with the health or crime problems that erupt downstream because of mercury exposure.

“When you buy a house or move into a rental, you won’t know whether the home you’re moving into is contaminated by mercury, unless you go to the extreme expense of getting it tested. Your safety, and your family’s safety, will rely on the ability and willingness of other ordinary [citizens] to properly dispose of mercury laden light bulbs, and you’ll never really know. The real cost is not one light bulb breakage, but how badly affected homes will be after 20 years of amateur attempts to clean up one of the deadliest neurotoxins on the planet. A generation of children crawling on mercury-infested carpets would give new meaning to the phrase, “dumbed-down”.

“On the strength of these scenarios alone, there’s a good case for actually banning the use of CFLs in homes, outright and immediately.”

I couldn’t agree more. And I don’t see how any responsible politician or environmental organisation could either, after getting this new information.


Edit Feb 2013: The reports on mercury-poisoned workers in China moved to: CFL Analysis – Mercury


CFL Analysis Summary – Actual Savings

With all the factors below added together, it should be more than obvious that CFLs a) don’t save as much energy as claimed; b) don’t give the same quality light as incandescent and halogen lamps; c) cannot be used in any light fitting (luminaire); and d) are not as environmentally friendly and safe as previously assumed.

Before dismissing these statements out of hand, please just take the time to read the referenced facts presented below. Then do the math yourself.

1. As shown under Conversion charts, a good quality 11W CFL gives about as much light as a 40W incandescent bulb when real lumen output and expected light loss is taken into consideration.

2. As shown under Power factor, a typical 11W CFL really uses an equivalent of 20 watts of energy when power factor and ballast use are added to the calculation.

3. As shown under Various limitations, when used in the wrong luminaire, at too high or too low temperature etc., output and/or life rate decreases further, though it’s difficult to give an exact number as this may vary so much with circumstances, e.g. 50% less light when used in recessed downlights and 1-89% or a mean of 40% outdoors at minus 10 degrees C. (So, either get the exact right info on which luminaire each CFL is appropriate for, or subtract some more from potential savings.)

4. As shown under Light reduction, poor quality CFLs will also give less light right from the start and/or lose more and sooner, so subtract 15-65% of estimated savings if you got one of those bargain CFLs at an outlet store and find that it doesn’t seem as bright as it should be or last as long as promised.

5. As shown under Heat replacement effect, if you live in a cooler climate zone and use CFLs indoors, the excess heat may or may not, depending on your heating system, lower heating bills but at least make the room warmer. Cut the savings number in half if you’ve got electric radiators with thermostats, less if you have water radiators or heat pump. If you live in a warm zone and use air conditioning, savings increase.

6. As shown under Life cycle assessment, this is not even including the extra energy used for production of CFLs, shipping from the Far East, transportation to recycling facilities, and safe recycling of the mercury. Including these in the calculation, Gad Giladi D.E.S.A., M.F.A. FPLDA, in his calculation makes a rough estimate of a 1.1 or 1.3 total less energy comsumption of the CFL.

Even if we stop after the first 2 points and assume for the sake of simplicity that the rest is not applicable in an ideal case, we still only save half of the roughly 4% (= 2%) of domestic energy used for home lighting, and less if we bring in more of the above factors.

Also, as mentioned under EU energy statistics, only around 50% of lamps in EU homes are still incandescent, so cut the 2 in half again = 1%. (or about 0.25% of total EU energy consumption).

Is it really worth sacrificing both Light quality in our homes, the Health & wellbeing of some groups, plus risking massive a increase in Mercury pollution due to suboptimal recycling rate, when such small savings can easily be achieved by installing light sensors, dimmers, timers, remote controls or intelligent IR-sensor light switches like the Watt-Stopper, turning down heat one or two degrees, using fewer electric appliances, or simply turning lights off when not in use?

CFL Analysis – Efficacy

Though CFLs may give a little more light (lumen) per watt than incandescent lamps – a normal quality-quantity trade-off – the “5 times more” is only a nominal value for some of the best, top brand, bare tube ‘single-envelope’ CFTs & CFLs:

a) in the beginning;
b) in optimal burning position, at optimal temperature & humidity, in optimal luminaire;
c) if they have a good power factor;
d) if the heat replacement effect is ignored;
f) if they last as long as promised (without losing too much output towards the end).

“During 2004, the Test Laboratory then a part of the Swedish Consumer Agency (now a part of Swedish Energy Agency) carried out its second ad hoc testing of 20 different CFLs from Osram, GE, Philips, IKEA and Sylvania. The testing authority concluded that there was no correlation between price and performance of the CFLs.

The information on packaging was often deficient in terms of light quantity. Many models had light output claims that could only be achieved at the optimum operating temperature and/or in some optimum burning position that achieved an optimum internal temperature.

Many light output claims were outright exaggeration, often by about 15 percent and in a few extreme cases by 25 percent. Furthermore, it was common that the indicated life was inaccurate.“[emphasis added] [1]

Other consumer tests have found the poorest performing bulbs in each test to give >15%, 19%, 22%, 33%, 34%, 65% less light than stated, while a few of the best gave slightly more (initially), and most somewhat under stated lumens. [2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]

Update 29 Aug: A new test by The Telegraph sample 11W CFLs to give only 58% of the light from the claimed equivalent 60W incandescent lamps. [8]

1. Swedish Energy Agency: Compact Fluorescents in Residential Lighting
2. Vielen Sparlampen geht das Licht zu früh aus
3. 14 Sparlampen im Test
4. Råd & Rön, 1/2008
5. Ica-Kuriren, 3/2008
6. Öko-Test Themen-Special: Energiesparlampe versus Glühbirne
7. Die Tester: Energiesparlampen
8. Energy saving light bulbs offer dim future

CFL Analysis – Light Reduction

All fluorescent and HID lamps lose output with age; some more than others, especially covered and reflector CFLs. 10% after 1000 hours for bare tubes and more and as they age, is considered normal in the lighting industry. Though the general public is usually not informed of this fact and will end up with less light than they thought they were buying if they follow the recommended conversion charts.

U.S. Department of Energy tested ENERGY STAR-labeled lamps and found that:

“In Cycle Four, 38% CFL samples failed to meet the requirement of lumen maintenance at 40% rated life, and the majority of covered lamps and reflector lamps failed this requirement with the exception of two models from a certain manufacturer.” [1]

In a 2008 Swedish consumer test, Philips, Osram and IKEAs bare tubes had lost a mean of 19% after 6000 hrs, Philips & Osram covered bulbs a mean of 25%, and Ikea bulbs 30-100% (= some didn’t last long enough to measure). [2]

And these are some of the best CFLs on the market. Lower end lamps can be expected to lose even more.

1. Energy Star Lighting Verification Program
2. Råd & Rön 1/2008

Update Dec 2009: Finally, some journalists are starting to actually read consumer and governmental tests instead of just mindlessly trusting the inflated propaganda from EU, Energy Star and Energy Saving Trust.

Energy saving light bulbs get dimmer over time

Just as I’ve been saying. Every lighting professional knows this and plans for it. And you don’t even have to check consumer tests: it’s right there in manufacturer catalogues (if you know what you’re looking for) and manufacturers won’t deny it if asked; they’re just not going to volunteer that information to the public if you don’t ask.

Update July 2012: There seems to have been some slight improvement in some of the best bulbs according to the latest Swedish consumer tests, but still ‘stick’ type CFLs lost a mean of 16-24% (= mean 15%) after 5 000 hours, ‘spiral’ models 18-21% (mean 14%), and ‘bulb’ models as much as 15-30% (mean 23%). And this is under controlled lab conditions where lamps won’t overheat or get switched on-and-off more often than the recommended 15 minutes minimal burning time, as they might during home use.

Compare that to a mean of just 6% light loss in incandescent lamps, according to earlier tests – which won’t even be noticeable as they will get replaced sooner, whereas CFLs will just keep getting dimmer and dimmer with age.

CFL Analysis – Lifespan

Updated Aug 2012

Shorter life than promised

One of the most common complaints from disgruntled customers is premature failure after only a few hours, days, weeks or years, way short of the life rate stated on the package; sometimes due to poor lamp quality, sometimes from using good lamps in the wrong luminaires so they overheat, or switching them on-and-off too often.

In real scenarios, what causes CFLs to fall short of their rated life?

As anyone who frequently replaces CFLs in closets or hallways has likely discovered, rapid cycling can prematurely kill a CFL. Repeatedly starting the lamp shortens its life, Snyder explains, because high voltage at start-up sends the lamp’s mercury ions hurtling toward the starting electrode, which can destroy the electrode’s coating over time. Snyder suggests consumers keep this in mind when deciding where to use a compact fluorescent. The Lighting Research Center has published a worksheet [PDF] for consumers to better understand how frequent switching reduces a lamp’s lifetime. The sheet provides a series of multipliers so that consumers can better predict a bulb’s longevity. The multipliers range from 1.5 (for bulbs left on for at least 12 hours) to 0.4 (for bulbs turned off after 15 minutes). Despite any lifetime reduction, Snyder says consumers should still turn off lights not needed for more than a few minutes.

Another CFL slayer is temperature. “Incandescents thrive on heat,” Baker says. “The hotter they get, the more light you get out of them. But a CFL is very temperature sensitive.” He notes that “recessed cans”—insulated lighting fixtures—prove a particularly nasty compact fluorescent death trap, especially when attached to dimmers, which can also shorten the electronic ballast’s life. He says consumers often install CFLs meant for table or floor lamps inside these fixtures, instead of lamps specially designed for higher temperatures, as indicated on their packages. Among other things, these high temperatures can destroy the lamps’ electrolytic capacitors—the main reason, he says, that CFLs fail when overheated.

Are Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs Really Cheaper Over Time?

Chen W, Davis R, and Ji Y. 1998, in “An Investigation of the Effect of Operating Cycles on the Life of Compact Fluorescent Lamps” wrote:

A study published in 1998 examined CFL performance with five different operating cycles. It found that when the length of time the lamps were on was reduced from 3 hours to 1 hour, the lamp lasted for 80 percent of its rated life. When reduced to 15 min and 5 min, the lamp lasted for 30 percent and 15 percent, respectively, of its rated life.

A spokesman for the (pro-CFL) Energy Saving Trust confirms that frequent switching may reduce CFL life:

Regularly flicking a bulb on for a brief moment and then off again is not recommended as it can shorten the lifetime of the bulb.

Lifespan of energy-saving bulbs reduced by repeated switching

When CFLs fail prematurely, calculated long-term savings of course go down the drain. As noted in this New York Times article: Do New Bulbs Save Energy if They Don’t Work?

Irritation seems to be rising as more consumers try compact fluorescent bulbs, which now occupy 11 percent of the nation’s eligible sockets, with 330 million bulbs sold every year. Consumers are posting vociferous complaints on the Internet after trying the bulbs and finding them lacking.

Bulb makers and promoters say the overall quality of today’s compact fluorescents is high. But they also concede that it is difficult to prevent some problem bulbs from slipping through.

Experts say the quality problems are compounded by poor package instructions. Using the bulbs incorrectly, such as by screwing low-end bulbs into fixtures where heat is prone to build up, can greatly shorten their lives.

Some experts who study the issue blame the government for the quality problems, saying an intensive federal push to lower the price essentially backfired by encouraging manufacturers to use cheap components.

Example of long list of typical complaints can be found in the comments section of this (substandard and subjective) CFL test by Popular Mechanics and here: Compact Flourescent Light Bulbs – Lifespan

Consumer tests

According to the few consumer tests that test CFLs for that long, life span seems to have improved over the last decade for the best lamps, though not all CFLs work as long as promised.

• In a German test published January 2009, Osram & Philips CFLs lasted the full 15 500 hours – though with decreasing output – whereas 20% of IKEAs lamps went out before 3000 hrs and most reflector lamps died fairly soon. The tendency was for cheaper lamps to go out sooner. Konsumo: Energiesparlampen-Test: – Zweifel beseitigt

• Another German test from Dec 2008 gave “less than good results”. The first lamps went out after 1500 hours. (However, the exact details were not presented.) Öko-test Online: Energiesparlampe versus Glühbirne

• In a Swiss test from November 2007, Noser, IKEA and Megaman had fallouts before 3000 hrs, whereas the other 11 kept burning. Arcotronic AG: 14 Sparlampen im Test

• In a Swedish test from 2008, various lamp models and wattages from 3 common brands were tested for 6000 hours. 3 of the 4 tested IKEA lamps lasted the 6000 hrs, but one model an average of only 4398 hours. 11 of 14 Osram models (promising 6-15 000 hrs) passed the 6000 hour test, and the remaining 3 (sold as ‘6000 hrs’) lasted 4984 – 5911 hours. 8 of 15 Philips lamps kept burning at 6000 hrs and the other 7 went out between 3189 and 5837 hours, of which one (marked ’10 000 hrs’) lasted only 4244 hrs and 4 of 8 sold as ‘8000 hrs’ lasted only between 5178 and 5837 hours. Råd & Rön: Lågenergilampor, 1/2008

And this is when tested in lab conditions with bulbs burning openly without shades, at optimal temperature etc. In home luminaires with insufficient air flow and real life situations, e.g. when turned on and off often, life rate may turn out to be significantly shorter.

Edit 2012: Since I wrote this article, Råd & Rön tests have been made annually and published online (see Consumer Tests – CFL in pages section), but only the 2009 cycle tested CFLs for as long as 8 000 hours. Quoting myself:

Lamp life: Quite a few burned out long before stated life. Of the Osram ‘Miniball’ 11W (marked 6 000 h), all had gone out by half that time! And of a less known brand, North Light (marked 10 000 h), 40 % had gone out by 6 000 hours. Bulb models were least durable while spiral models gave most light and lasted longest. 

Improvements seem to have been made in the amount of on-off cycles top brand CFLs can withstand, but when I mailed and asked, it turned out that on-off cycles were: 2 hours 45 minutes on, 15 minutes off, meaning that not even this Swedish consumer agency wants to test more frequent switching than that.

This in essence makes CFLs useless for many if not most sockets in an average home, except perhaps a continuously burning porch light. Humorously illustrated by this youtube video where visits to different rooms were actually timed (thanks to Freedom Lightbulb for recommending it):

And making 20 000 hour incandescent bulbs is clearly possible since they can be bought at Aero-Tech Light Bulb Co, it’s only a matter of wanting to. [Thanks to Freedom Lightbulb and Argumente für die Glühbirne for finding the link.]


CFL Analysis – Conversion Charts

European recommendations

In Europe, CFLs are often claimed to give “5 times more light” (or “up to” 5 times more, to cover poorer performing covered, reflector and decorative bulbs). Optimistic calculations on potential savings are almost always made on the nominal initial lumen/watt values of the best performing bare tubes. A typical European equivalence chart may look like this:

These recommendations are, however, quite misleading as those who follow them will get less light than they originally had! Astonishingly, the EU 2008 CFL Quality Charter accepts lower minimum initial claimed lumen output from what is considered equivalent wattage CFL, than what you get from the original incandescent bulb (!)

As can be seen in my thumbnail chart above (click to enlarge), incandescent lamps usually have a higher lumen output than the minimum EU requirements for equivalent CFL! [1]

If a typical CFL does not produce as many initial lumens as the lamp it is supposed to be replacing, it cannot possibly be said to give “5 times more light” of incandescent energy use. This is consumer fraud, first accepted and perpetuated by utilities and state authorities, and now by EU!

Light Reduction

As explained in under Life Span, CFL output degrades with age. After 2000 hours, the EU Quality Charter accepts a 12% light loss for bare CFL tubes, 17% for covered CFL bulbs, and 25% for both types towards the end of their life.

To illustrate how this works out in lumen output for various wattages, I’ve used lumen numbers from manufacturer catalogues [1, 2, 3] for standard incandescent A-bulbs and a typical good quality CFL bare tube at different wattages for comparison. In the following columns I’ve deducted the permitted 12% and light loss after 2000 hours and 25% towards its end of life.

Here I’ve deducted the permitted 17% and 25% light loss for double envelope CFL bulbs (a Swedish consumer test showed 15% loss after 2 000 h and 27% light loss after 6 000 h for this particular model).[5] In the manufacturer’s catalogue, it is still sold as “saving 80% light” (= giving “5 times more light” than an incandescent) but as we can see here, it is less than with light loss included in the calculation.

To get the same lumen output as from an incandescent bulb and to compensate for the the poorer light quality and expected reduction in output as the CFL ages, one needs to choose a higher watt CFL than usually recommended – just like professional lighting designers often do when installing new lights, as they are well aware of these factors. This will, however, give a light that may be too bright and glaring in the beginning and too weak and dull towards the end of its life.

Thus, an Energy Class A-rated, good quality CFL bare tube does not give 5 times more light, but 3-4. And this is for some of the top brand most effective CFLs on the market, and only using numbers from manufacturer’s own catalogue claims and EU quality charter accepted light loss. As consumer tests keep showing, real output may be even lower, both for quality CFLs (since EU has accepted a lower standard) and even more so for ‘bargain’ lamps.

1. Philips Lighting
3. Hawells-Sylvania
4. Råd & Rön 7/01

North American recommendations

U.S. and Canadian ENERGY STAR requirements stay more reasonable and require a minimum initial lumen output that roughly translates to a 3:1 or 4:1 switch. [1, 2]

Again, required initial lumen output is slightly less than incandescent output, and light loss and light quality is not taken into account, despite General Electric being more realistic and stating mean lumen values in their online catalogues, which presumably includes eventual light loss.

As can be seen in the above example, a fair switch, to compensate for eventual light loss and not fall below incandescent output, is closer to 3 than 4 – for the most effective bare tubes3:1 = 66%. For covered bulbs, globes, reflector lamps and decorative bulbs, it may be even less. Yet on the same page, it is still claimed that:

“ENERGY STAR qualified bulbs use about 75 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs.”

2. Canadian ENERGY STAR
3. GE Lighting


Based on manufacturer figures for initial lumens, with light reduction included, the best tubes give only 3-4 times more light in Europe and around 3 in the U.S.A and Canada (due to incandescent light being more efficient at lower mains voltage). Less for covered, reflector & decorative CFLs, for CFLs used in the wrong luminaires, and for poorer quality CFLs of all types.

Consumers therefore need to be advised to choose a higher watt CFL than recommended to get as much light as from the original bulb and to compensate for the eventual light degradation and poorer quality of the CFL replacement. And the EU standardisation directive needs to be adjusted to reflect reality.

Update July 2012: Added better and updated graphics. The examples used above may now have been replaced by other models, but according to more recent consumer tests, most CFLs still do not give as much light even initially as the equivalent incandescent lamps did, and all CFLs still become markedly dimmer with age.

Now that manufacturers have gotten away with this consumer fraud (because everyone is too lazy to read catalogues and consumer tests) and consumers have gotten used to living in dimmer light, the plan seems to be that faulty equivalence charts are being done away with altogether. Soon we will have to keep (lowered standard) lumen numbers in our heads to know which lamp brightness we want. Read more about the new labels here.

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