spend those worthless fiat dollars on LEDs.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Some special cases where CFL radiation is a health hazard
Nov 24 2008 11:48AM | Permalink |Email this|Comments (18) |
When on the Megaman site looking for information on DORS (dim-on-switching) technology, I saw several models of CFLs (compact fluorescent lights) that encased the spiral/curved fluorescent bulbs inside a globe (pictured below on the left.) This seemed like overkill and a belt-and-suspenders approach to a light bulb, but I assumed it was for aesthetic reasons.
Enclosed/globe CFLHowever, reader Ray Hulinsky (thanks, Ray!) sent in this link to an announcement by the British governmental health organization, the Health Protection Agency (HPA), that some CFLs emit ultraviolet radiation at levels that, under certain conditions of use, can result in exposures higher than guideline levels. The HPA guideline limit is 30 J m-2 for the eye and skin, which is equivalent to a constant irradiance of 1 mW m-2 effective for 30,000 seconds or 8 hours, the normal working day.
The problem with the higher radiation level is not eye damage, since CFLs are bright enough that no one is going to stare at them. The HPA’s concern is for skin exposure, but only when the bulb is less than 12 inches away and for a period of more than an hour per day.
This sounded kind of ridiculous: How likely is someone to be that close to a light bulb of any kind for over an hour? However, light bulbs are ubiquitous, and are used in non-standard applications. According to the HPA, patients with lupus are especially susceptible to UV exposure: Having a CFL in a bedside lamp could exacerbate the effects of lupus.
The point of this is not that CFLs are terrible, but that users need to be aware of gotcha-type applications for them. Lupus patients and their care-givers can be educated as part of the disease that some CFLs aren’t a good choice for table lamps. (CFLs in garage-door openers may not be a good choice either.)
Back to the Megaman example: The HPA suggests enclosed or globe CFLs for any applications where UV exposure is a concern: The extra level of enclosure is enough to absorb excess UV.
Related entries in: Power Sources/Controllers | Power Supplies |
(Add your comments)
at 11/25/2008 4:27:47 AM, Darren Holdstock said:
The anglepoise lamp on my workbench can easily be 12" away from my face for more than an hour a day. But as I need a decent quality light here, a CFL is the last bulb I''d use, so it''s fitted with a daylight-spectrum incandescent. I do have a bare-tube CFL at home that powers a chunk of the photosynthesis for a small hanging houseplant, so a bit of UV can be useful. I recall someone in another thread using one for their fishtank plants too.
at 11/25/2008 1:34:48 PM, Jeff Prystupa said:
CFL''s have mercury and if a CFL bulb breaks, it is recommended that the room be cleared for 15-20 minutes for the mercury vapor to dissipate. In addition, it has been suggested that CFL''s do not perform well mounted down-facing as in ceiling cannister. Without adequate air flow around the bulb, the operating temperature rises from around 105 degrees (F) up to 160 degrees, thus shortening bulb life down below regular incandescents. Some critics have expressed the thought that the CFL technology was released prematurely.
at 11/25/2008 1:40:20 PM, Tzimtzum said:
It will just be a matter of time before the legal vipers get a hold of this one: "If you have a rheumatoid condition such as Lupus and have been exposed to a CFL and have experienced a worsening of condition, hospitalization, or if a love one has died as a result of exposure, you may be entitled to compensation. Call this number right away. . . ."
at 11/25/2008 1:48:35 PM, Nikolay TT said:
Maybe some of you have noticed that the Remote controls of your TV or sililar equipment will not work properly if you use those bulbs for light in the room. I guess that is due to the "blinding" effect of those bulbs on the IR receiver. If you switch those bulbs off then everything is OK. So how comes, those are IR receivers, aren't they, and then what happens to humman vision if we are overexposed to broad spectrum light, not only UV ? Thanks for your time if commenting thins out.
at 11/25/2008 2:04:45 PM, JoeP said:
We started using CFLs at home in 1988 when the only ones available were made by Philips. These older ones had triple glass hoops rather than the spirals common today. They also sold for around $15 ea if I recall correctly. However, they did last and worked quite nicely in base-up configuration. Ours were almost exclusively in recessed ceiling cans with the bulb exposed. It has been 20 years and some of the originals are still in use. In contrast, most of the CFLs I find on the market now only last for 1-3 years. So, CFL technology was not released prematurely. Rather, the quality of these original Philips bulbs has been largely lost in the marketplace.
at 11/25/2008 2:09:51 PM, Jarvis said:
The output from CFL's is for the most part in the visible, and not in the IR region where remotes operate. Since the initial energy comes from Hg plasma, and 90% of that energy is in discrete emission lines in the UV, certainly SOME of the UV might get through the glass envelope. It very much depends on the type of glass, and the thickness of the phosphor down-converter deposited on the inside of that glass. I have TV remotes & CFL's. Makes no difference. There is virtually zero infrared energy from these lamps.
at 11/25/2008 2:13:54 PM, Pator said:
I have been using CFL''s for at least 15 years. When they first came out they cost $15 but lasted for years without any issues. The ones they sell now are garbage. I spoke to the company rep at Lightfair Lighting Convention and they stated I must have been using a base up only lamp in a base down application. They were wrong they just were no good.
at 11/25/2008 2:49:39 PM, pgdion said:
Yes, I keep saying the same thing with CFL's ... it's all about the quality. As with anything that's a hot item and has volume, all of the cheap copy cat manufacturers get in on it and their quality is just bad. It doesn't matter if it's CFL's, toys, tools, ect, the cheap stuff doesn't last. The difference in life of the bulbs in my house does not vary by application but it sure does vary by brand. I never buy any of the cheap off brands any more. The better name brands are still serving me well. Good tip on the UV. Rules out one application possibly, might not want to use these in desk lamps. Also, I have CFL's all over my house too, all of my remotes still work fine, no issues at all. The lights do not interfere with them.
at 11/25/2008 3:28:38 PM, fatbeard said:
I believe the phrase "pennywise, pound foolish" may be applied to this subject... The green aspect (always used as a big selling point) gets lost too somewhere in all of this: when operating a CFL uses less energy than an incandescant, but how about the fabrication or recycling? And what about the chemical content? That isn't quite so green... As for the interference with IR remote controls: that is probably due to insufficient filtering on the reciever end. The remaining visible portion swamps the amplifier and AGC circuitry resulting in poor performance.
at 11/25/2008 4:00:11 PM, bbq said:
Well you can''t do much for detecting 40kHz pulse-modulated IR remote if burried in another 40kHz CFL noise (mercury emmision line is in infrared spectrum, very close to IT remote). Most of the remote codes send 8-20b and you can''t get a single bit wrong. There is no IR remote standard and also no regulation for CFL opto emmission, no measurement standard for their compatibility either, only handwaving by consumer-crap manufacturers.
at 11/25/2008 6:52:07 PM, Az said:
for mr Nikolay TT your ir remote will not work because the switching frequency of the cfl is arround 40kHz....and the signal bursts from your remote control are also arround 40kHz
at 11/26/2008 12:24:11 AM, Deepak Bhardwaj said:
With the advent of LED lighting, it is good for the human race to adopt them and discard the CFL''s as early as we can. As has been rightly pointed out by one of the reader, has anyone really gone into assessing the "green" aspect of CFL''s completely? I believe nations which still have disparities on access to power for all its citizens, should adopt LED''s preferably. These nations would also have disposal issues and none of us would like mercury poisoned food landing on our tables over the next five years as adoption grows in villages.
at 11/26/2008 1:56:40 AM, Dr Bob said:
This is without considering the big lie CFL's save energy. In a domestic environment they do not save energy as incandescents also generate heat. Take this heat away and it has to be supplied from somewhere else to maintain the overall heating budget in the average house. It may be cheaper to use CFLs but it does not save energy
at 11/27/2008 6:52:16 PM, Patrick said:
I don't see how we can say that CFLs don't save energy compared to incandescents because of the heat generated by the latter. Most of the electricity in North America comes from thermal plants, that have no more than 50% efficiency. So even if you have to compensate for the heat lost by switching to CFLs, the overall energy use is reduced because burning fuel to heat the house is at least 80% efficient. Unless you electricity comes from renewable sources, there is an overall energy saving with CFLs. There are however valid questions to be asked about the claimed energy savings of CFLs: The crappy power factor (0.50 to 0.55) and the total energy used to manufacture them.
at 11/30/2008 10:23:00 AM, Ken Hemingway said:
The biggest problem that I have with CFLs is something I've never seen mentioned before. Which is- They visibly dim over a fairly short period of time. Sure, they may last for a long time, but as the light output lessens, what good are they? You have to replace them more frequently to keep the light brightness at an acceptable level. Incandenscents and "full" fluorescents also dim over time, but not as quickly. I'd just as well stay with the "original two" and stay away from CFLs.
at 12/1/2008 12:36:07 PM, WD Barrett said:
CFLs have significant problems - higher acquisition costs, disposal issues (due to the mercury), over-hyped lifetime, and UV-radiation are just a few. I discontinued use of CFLs indoors after I noticed the UV radiation from a CFL in a lamp discolored the carpeting. The pattern was exactly where the direct light from the lamp was hitting the carpet. Since the cost of replacing or repairing the carpet more than wipes out any energy savings, I went back to incandecents. However, they are economical for outside use, especially if an outdoor light remains on for most of the night. LEDs may be a better alternative. However, the manufacture of LEDs does produce dangerous chemical by-products. But since these chemicals are produced in an industrial environment, their disposal is easier to regulate and control. The disposal of CFLs is almost impossible to regulate.
at 12/18/2008 3:12:51 PM, yellowdog said:
The CFLs we get at ACE hardware are complete over-priced junk! They last about 6 months max! Now that I know they are built only for mounting with bulb up instead of down, I'll have to come up with an alternative.
at 1/11/2009 5:53:58 PM, gatorfan said:
So far the CFL's I bought have destroyed two expensive cloth covered lamp shades and the plastic lenses on my garage door opener. I'm going to hoard good old tungsten filament bulbs.
Despite the absence of flashing, many people have reported ill effects when using CFLs. Typical symptoms include dizziness, nausea, tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ears), headaches and various skin disorders. In particular, many sufferers from migraine and epilepsy have found that they still aggravate their conditions (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-505571/Energy-saving-bulbs-cause-migraines-warn-experts.html ) ( http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-464080/Low-energy-light-bulbs-...
The effects may be due to pulsed electromagnetic radiation.
The symptoms of exposure to CFL radiation are remarkably similar to those reported by electrosensitive individuals when exposed to pulsed electromagnetic fields. Since the lamps do not flash, it seems probable that they are a direct effect of the pulsed radiation on the brain and nervous system. The magnetic component of the radiation is the more dangerous because it can penetrate deep into the human body where it generates electrical voltages proportional to its rate of change. The rapid rise and fall times of these magnetic pulses can therefore give relatively massive and potentially damaging voltage spikes both in living cells and across their membranes.
Contamination of the mains
Poor quality CFLs often allow these pulses to leak back into the mains wiring to contribute to "dirty electricity" and increase the range of their effects to neighbouring rooms or houses. You should be able to detect these by holding a portable radio tuned between stations on an AM band near the wiring. This is because pulses, by their very nature, also contain harmonics (multiples of the original frequency) that can extend well into the radio frequency spectrum. If you hear a buzzing sound from the set, it means that pulses are leaking into the mains and you should replace the offending lamp by another of better quality.
Contamination of the mains to give "dirty electricity" can come from many sources, not just CFLs. Measurements made by David Stetzer in the library of an American school showed it to consist of hundreds of sharp spikes that could be up to hundreds of millivolts high, superimposed on each cycle of the 120 volt mains supply. Although the largest of them was only a tiny fraction of the overall mains voltage, their rapid rise and fall times give them biological activity. The sharp magnetic spikes they generate penetrate living tissue easily, where their sudden changes in field-strength induce large voltage spikes.
Several studies by Dr Magda Havas of Trent University in Canada and various co-workers have shown that simply removing these spikes in the mains with "Graham/Stetzer" filters gave improvements in the health, learning ability and behaviour of schoolchildren, reductions in the insulin needed to treat diabetics and an alleviation of the symptoms of electrosensitivity.
People who are affected badly by weak electromagnetic fields in this way are described as being electrosensitive or as suffering from electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS). Only about three percent of the population are thought to suffer from EHS at present, although this proportion is expected to rise as more people become sensitised and people who are already sensitive but do not realise it discover that their symptoms are related to electromagnetic exposure.
The symptoms of electrosensitivity are many and varied and not everyone suffers in the same way or to the same degree. Some of the effects are on the brain and nervous system and often become apparent during or shortly after exposure. They include dizziness, tinnitus, pins and needles, sensations of burning, numbness, fatigue and headaches. Longer-term effects include skin disorders, gut problems and an increased tendency to allergies and multiple chemical sensitivities (see http://www.es-uk.info/info/recognising.asp
Mechanisms of electrosensitivity
Electrosensitive individuals are physiologically different to the rest of the community. Eltiti and her co-workers at Essex University showed this very clearly in a project for the mobile phone industry and the UK Government. They wanted to see if electrosensitive individuals could detect the radiation from mobile phone masts. They excluded epileptics and people wearing pacemakers for cardiac arrhythmia who might be particularly sensitive and most of their results were less conclusive than they should have been. However, they did show very clearly that their group of EHS sufferers had skins with a significantly higher electrical conductance than the non-sensitive controls (p < 0.001). This means that their skin cells were more permeable to ions (charged atoms and molecules) that normally carry electricity in living tissues. There is now considerable evidence that most of the symptoms of electrosensitivity result from ions leaking through membranes in response to electromagnetic fields. Consequently, if electrosensitive individuals already have abnormally leaky membranes, they will be more likely to be affected by these fields.
Membrane leakage can account for the neurological symptoms of EHS sufferers. We know that weak electromagnetic radiation can temporarily remove structurally important calcium ions from cell membranes to make them leak (http://www.hese-project.org/hese-uk/en/papers/goldsworthy_bio_weak_em_07.pdf ). Unfortunately, all of our senses depend on ions flowing through the membranes of sensory cells at a rate that depends on the strength of the stimulus. This works well for most of us most of the time, but if the sensory cells of electrosensitive individuals are already leaky, any further electromagnetically-induced leakage will be more likely to trigger them to generate nerve impulses and give false sensations.
The effects on the ear are like motion sickness
The main sensory cells of the ear are the hair cells. Hairs at the apices of these bend when they sense movement in the surrounding medium. This makes ions leak through their membranes to reduce the voltage across them. They respond by releasing neurotransmitters that stimulate neighbouring nerve cells to send signals to the brain. Those at the ends of the semicircular canals have their hairs embedded in a light jelly, which deforms in response to movements of the fluid within. Because the fluid inside the canals tends to stay stationary when the head twists suddenly, it appears to flow past the jelly so that it measures rapid changes in the orientation of the head. The jelly in other parts of the ear is weighted with mineral granules (otoliths) and deforms in response to gravity and linear acceleration. The hair cells in these regions act like plumb-lines and give us most of our sense of balance.
We are all familiar with what happens if we feed them false information. If we spin our bodies rapidly and suddenly stop, the fluid in the semicircular canals continues to swirl for a while, the signals from the hair cells conflict with what we see around us and we feel dizzy. The stress and nausea of people who get motion sickness is due to a similar conflict between the signals from the ear and those from the other senses such as touch, sight and pressure on specific regions of the skin. It is therefore not surprising that false signals generated by electromagnetically-induced leakage in the hair cells cause dizziness and nausea in some electrosensitive individuals.
It can also cause tinnitus
The hair cells in the cochlea (the hearing part of the inner ear) respond to sound. They are arranged in a graded sequence with different length hairs along the length of the cochlea. Like the strings of a harp, they resonate at different frequencies. When an incoming sound matches their resonant frequencies, the hairs vibrate more strongly. This makes the cells concerned leak more ions, and trigger neighbouring nerve cells to send impulses to the brain. Which cells are stimulated tell it the pitch of the note. The frequency of the impulses tells it the loudness. False stimulation of these cells by electromagnetic radiation can in some people cause tinnitus, which can range from a mild ringing in the ears to buzzing and complex sounds that may be loud enough to drown out normal conversation.
Effects on the other senses
There are countless cells all over our bodies that sense various forms of touch (mechanoreceptors) temperature (thermoreceptors) and pain (nocireceptors). Each group contains many specialised variants but they nearly all function by letting ions flow through their membranes at a rate that depends on the strength of the stimulus. This reduces the voltage across the cell membrane, which triggers the transmission of nerve impulses to the brain, either by the cell itself or by releasing neurotransmitters to stimulate neighbouring nerve cells. Electromagnetically-induced membrane leakage in sensory cells in the skin explains the pins and needles, sensations of burning and pain experienced b EHS sufferers.
The eye is different
The light-sensing rods and cones in the retina of the eye are an exception in that when they respond to light they increase rather than decrease the voltage across their membranes. Consequently, any uncontrolled electromagnetically induced leakage here might be expected to reduce their sensitivity. It may be no coincidence that electrosensitive people whose vision is affected usually report a blurring or partial loss of vision rather than seeing things that aren't there.
Effects on the brain
It isn't just the sensory cells that are affected by electromagnetic radiation. False nerve impulses can be generated by electromagnetic fields in the neurons of the brain. These can cause hyperactivity, make it more difficult to sleep, trigger random thoughts, and result in a loss of concentration and confused thinking (http://www.hese-project.org/hese-uk/en/papers/cell_phone_and_cell.pdf ). It may therefore not be advisable to use CFLs in a study or any other place where a great deal of concentration is required, especially if you are electrosensitive. This effect is probably the real reason why we are four times more likely to have an accident by using a mobile phone when driving, since using a hands-free type is no better but talking to a passenger has little or no effect.
Spurious action potentials caused by membrane leakage in the heart muscle can give rise to cardiac arrhythmia and an increased risk of heart attacks. Increases in the permeability of skin cells can give rise to dermatological problems as well as a greater tendency to develop allergies and multiple chemical sensitivities. Electromagnetically-induced increases in the permeability of the gut to toxins, carcinogens and its partially digested contents, might be expected to cause a whole array of disorders and have been implicated as a risk factor in the development of autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and type-1 diabetes (http://www.hese-project.org/hese-uk/en/papers/cell_phone_and_cell.pdf). All of these illnesses have been linked scientifically to electromagnetic exposure, so people with a tendency to any of them should take the utmost caution in the use of CFLs and avoid using them totally if possible.
Are there alternatives?
If you are affected by CFLs, an obvious solution is to stock up on incandescent bulbs before they are phased out. If this is not an option, try using high voltage halogen incandescent lamps as a replacement since there are no immediate plans to phase these out. However, do not use the low voltage types, since many of them use switched mode power supplies to reduce the voltage. These could well give the same symptoms as CFLs.
It is becoming increasingly obvious that CFLs are not the best option for low energy lighting, and special dispensation needs to be made to supply alternatives to people whose health is unduly affected by them. Even so, we should regard CFLs as being just a stopgap until LED (light emitting diode) lighting is perfected. LEDs last indefinitely, they run on DC or rectified AC without generating damaging electromagnetic pulses, and the best of them are already more efficient than CFLs. At the moment, the main problem with them is with their colour; the most efficient "white" ones have a harsh blue tint. Although they are commonly used in flashlights, they have very poor colour rendering abilities and aren't really suitable for domestic lighting. Their spectrum can be improved by adding phosphors to absorb some of the blue light and re-emit it as other colours, but this causes a dramatic loss of efficiency. An alternative is to use an array of differently coloured LEDs so that between them they give a spectrum that corresponds more closely to true white light. Hopefully, research on these devices will be given a high priority so that cheap high-quality LED lighting for domestic and industrial installations becomes available and CFLs, with all their attendant problems, become things of the past.
Dr. Andrew Goldsworthy 2008
Factsheet: the three main health risks associated with energy saving lamps (CFLs)
(Also available as a pdf, click here)
There is a trend in the European Union of promoting the widespread use of energy-saving light bulbs. Moreover, the EU and several other countries across the world have recently decided to ban conventional, incandescent lamps in the near future.
Despite this trend, concerns have been raised on the safety and health effects of energy saving light bulbs, more specifically of Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs), the main type of energy-saving light bulb currently on the market.
Below is a summary of the three principal health risks associated with energy saving lamps, namely electromagnetic fields, mercury and UV radiation.
1. Electromagnetic radiation and dirty electricity
Incandescent lamps emit very little electromagnetic radiation. CFLs on the contrary emit radiofrequency radiation in the frequency range of 25 to 100 kilohertz (kHz).
Measurements by the independent French research centre CRIIREM show that CFLs generate powerful electromagnetic fields (EMF) close to the source, up to 1 meter distance (1). At a distance of 20 centimeters, radiation levels can be as high as 180 Volts per meter (!) Measurements by the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO) have confirmed these findings (2).
CRIIREM therefore advises not to use energy saving lamps at too close a distance, for example, as desk lamps or as a reading lamp beside the bed (3). A ban on incandescent lamps, however, will result in more people using CFLs as desk or bed lamps, thereby exposing them to very high levels of EMF.
It is often said that these levels of EMF stay below the international exposure limits and that they are therefore safe. However, there is widespread criticism on these limits, which are considered to be much too lenient (4).
In addition to directly emitting radiation, there are indications that the EMFs emitted by CFLs can travel along the electrical wiring thereby exposing people to so-called ‘dirty electricity’ throughout the house. A study published in June 2008 in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine indicated that this dirty electricity can lead to a 5-fold increased risk of cancer (5). A harmful influence of dirty electricity has also been found in research done by the Canadian researcher Magda Havas (6).
Low voltage halogen lamps (12 V) can pose similar problems due to EMFs originating from the transformers. This is particularly the case with the pulsed radiation from “electronic transformers”, which can also contaminate the mains to give dirty electricity. Mains voltage halogen lamps (220 V) do not have this effect.
All in all, there has been very little research to date into the health effects of energy saving lamps and the EMFs they emit. Therefore some groups are arguing that this research should be done before incandescent lamps are banned.
Energy saving lamps contain mercury, a substance which is extremely harmful for humans, animals and the ecosystem in general. It is especially toxic to the brain, the nervous system, the liver and the kidneys. Fetuses, babies and infants are the most vulnerable, as mercury exposure negatively influences the development of the brain (eg. lower IQ) and nervous system. Mercury can also damage the cardiovascular, immune and reproductive systems and possibly lead to tremors, emotional instability, memory loss, insomnia, neuromuscular changes, headaches, cancer and Alzheimer’s (7).
It is often said that energy saving lamps contain only a very small amount of mercury, which therefore can’t be harmful. Though one has to ask the question: small in comparison to what? The safe intake of mercury for a human body is a only a few micrograms (8). CFL’s contain three to five thousand micrograms.
Exposure to the mercury in CFL’s normally only occurs when the lamp breaks, which can happen very easily. Measurements show that the levels of mercury in the air after lamp breakage can well exceed the existing safety limits (9). After the breakage, a large number of fairly complicated measures need to be taken to limit the health risks. However, very few people are aware of the needed precautionary measures. Moreover, a study by the state of Maine (United States) shows that even when all precautionary measures are taken, the mercury concentrations in the room where the lamp broke can stay very high (9). This is because the mercury can get absorbed into all sorts of textiles (carpet, curtains, etc.), which can then give off mercury vapours for a long time after the breakage.
For children playing on the carpet this can lead to very high exposures. More generally, it can be said that: “Babies and other small children are more vulnerable to airborne mercury exposures, because their small body sizes and more rapid respiration rates give them a larger dose of mercury than an adult gets from inhaling air with the same mercury concentration. Mercury vapour is heavier than air, and mercury concentrations in indoor air tend to be higher near the floor. Infants and toddlers who crawl, sit, walk, play and breathe on or close to the floor are thus likely to be most heavily exposed to the mercury vapor from a broken CFL.” (9, p. 7)
Lamps that are thrown in the garbage can break in the garbage can in the house or in the dump truck, from where the mercury vapours can escape and are thus transferred all over the town or city (10). Once the lamps end up on the landfill, the mercury can evaporate further, seep into the ground and contaminate water. The amount of mercury in one lamp is enough to contaminate 23.000 liters (6,000 gallons) of water (11). Even when the lamps don’t break, the mercury in them constitutes a time bomb for future generations (10).
Environmental organisations, the lamp industry and government agencies often claim that energy saving lamps will ultimately reduce the amount of mercury in the environment. It is said that the production of electricity in coal-fired power plants is an important source of mercury emissions. Because CFLs use less electricity than incandescent lights, CFLs will ultimately reduce the amount of mercury in the environment, or so the argument goes. However, several experts question the validity of this argument. John Gilkeson, head of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in the United States says that less use of electricity is not directly linked to fewer mercury emissions. Using less electricity does not necessarily mean that less coal is burned. Since coal is cheap, power companies tend to keep their coal-fired plants running day and night; when demand for electricity ebbs, they cut back on more expensive natural gas, not coal (12).
Professor Ron Hui, chairman of the electronic engineering department at the City University of Hong Kong also remarks: “Talking about the amount of mercury emitted from power stations is a false argument. With power stations, the contamination is in that area, but now we are talking about bringing that contamination into every home and every street. We may have less mercury in the whole production process than with incandescent light bulbs but the difference with CFLs is that the mercury will be in our homes and in our streets” (10)
Energy saving lamps emit UV-B and traces of UV-C radiation. It is generally recognised that UV-radiation is harmful for the skin (eg. skin cancer) and the eyes (eg. cataract). UV-C radiation, which is normally not observed in nature because it is absorbed completely in the atmosphere, is especially harmful.
Several studies have found that fluorescent lights raise the risk for skin cancer (13). A study published in The Lancet for example indicated a doubled risk for melanoma (14).
There have been numerous reports of people with skin conditions and light sensitivity who react badly to CFL’s (15). But also people without existing skin conditions can develop adverse skin reactions such as redness and a hot, burning sensation in the face (16).
Organisations defending the right of people to safe lighting, such as “Right to Light” and “Spectrum Alliance”, have therefore heavily criticised the plans to ban incandescent lamps. The British Association of Dermatologists has supported this criticism (17).
CFL’s with a double envelope emit far less or no UV-radiation. Nevertheless, most people don’t know that a double envelope is needed to shield the UV-radiation. As long as single envelope CFL’s (which are cheaper than double envelope ones) are sold on the market, UV-radiation will continue to be a public health problem.
4. Other problems
Energy saving light bulbs, especially low quality ones, sometimes cause flickering light. This can lead to discomfort, headaches/migraine (18, 19), eye strain, diminished concentration (19), seizure-like symptoms in epileptics (20), worsened symptoms in people with Ménière’s disease, etc.
- Toxic chemicals
The electronic circuit of energy saving lamps contains flame retardants (PBDE). These are chemical compounds that accumulate in the body and which studies have linked to harmful effects on the hormonal and reproductive system, the liver, the thyroid gland, to cancer and neurological effects (22).
Some energy saving lamps also have an external coating of titanium dioxide, made up of ultra small nano-particles. There still is a lot of uncertainty on the health effects of nano-particles but there are indications that they can lead to inflammation in tissues and organs and to cardiovascular effects (23).
- Diminished production of melatonin
German scientists have warned that the large proportion of blue light emitted by CFL’s can lead to a diminished production of the important hormone melatonin. This in turn can lead to a wide variety of diseases and conditions: sleeping disorders, cancer, cardiovascular disease, etc. (23). But the specific light emitted by CFL’s could also influence the production of other hormones and neurotransmitters.
(4) See for example:
The entire study can be found at http://www.beperkdestraling.org/Wetenschap/High%20frequency%20voltage%20trans...
(6) Havas, M. 2006. Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity: Biological effects of dirty electricity with emphasis on diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine, 25: 259-268, 2006
(13) eg. Lytle CD, Cyr WH, Beer JZ, Miller SA, James RH, Landry RJ, et al. An estimation of squamous cell carcinoma risk from ultraviolet radiation emitted by fluorescent lamps. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed 1992/1993; 9:268-274.
(14) V. Beral, S. Evans, H. Shaw & G. Milton (1982), ‘Malignant melanoma and exposure to fluorescent lighting at work’, The Lancet, 7 August 1982, pp. 290-293.
(15) ‘Low-energy bulbs worsen rashes’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7170246.stm
(4 January 2008)
Documentary ‘Rays of Rash’, aired on Canadian television: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CVLa_tRslY
(16) eg. ‘The energy-saving light bulbs that could leave you red-faced… from UV radiation’, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1075613/The-energy-saving-light-bul...
(15 October 2008)
(18) ‘Low-energy bulbs cause migraine’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7167860.stm
(2 January 2008)
(19) ‘Fluorescent lights giving pupils headaches’ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/09/06/nlights106.xml
(6 September 2007)
(20) ‘Energy-saving light bulbs are threat to epileptics’, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/health/healthmain.html?in_arti...
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No conclusions yet, but it does appear as though there may be cause for concern:
WINNIPEG–The safety of energy-saving light bulbs is under review over concerns the low-cost green alternative may emit potentially harmful ultraviolet radiation.
Health Canada launched the study in December to test compact fluorescent bulbs to see if they emit ultraviolet radiation.
Two months earlier, British health officials issued a public warning that, in close proximity, the bulbs emit UV rays similar to outdoor exposure levels on a sunny summer day.
Britain’s Health Protection Agency now recommends people should not be closer than 30 centimetres from an energy-saving light bulb for more than one hour per day, saying it is like exposing bare skin to direct sunlight.
Well, if you’re worried it’s a good thing you can always go back to using incandescent light bulbs.
Er…wait a minute. You can’t. Because Congress, in all of its wisdom, banned that kind of light bulb for your own good.
Good thing we’ve got those geniuses looking out for us.
Of course, the incandescent bulb ban doesn’t go into full effect until 2014, but still. This illustrates the stupidity of Congress trying to control the market.