January 5, 2013

Study Finds that Twirlie Lightbulbs Pose Health Hazard (In Addition to the Mercury!)

Monique Chartier

While filling in at WPRO last week, John Loughlin shared a political rumor that Governor Chafee might take a position in the Obama administration - in the Department of Energy as (and it's possible that John was being facetious about this title) the Deputy Undersecretary of Twirlie Lightbulbs.

In that possibly fictional position, Mr. Chafee would have an increasingly steep marketing hill to climb. By now, the health hazard posed by the mercury contained in CFL bulbs is pretty well known. (Side question: why is mercury released from coal unacceptable but mercury released from a politically correct light bulb just fine? Don't they both cause nerve damage?)

Now the latest. A study conducted last summer, which just popped up, H/T, on Breitbart, indicates another problem with CFL bulbs. If you're too close to them, they hit you with UV light. You know, that cancer-causing spectrum emitted by the sun? PBS has a pretty good explanation.

First we had to understand why a household light bulb would produce UV light in the first place. As it turns out, all fluorescent light bulbs contain mercury vapor, which emits a lot of UV rays when hit with an electric current. Normally that UV is absorbed by a layer of molecules, called phosphors, on the inside of the bulb and reappears as safe white light.

But if that phosphor coating cracks, UV light escapes. And according to the researchers at Stony Brook, defects are common. They saw bald spots in nearly all the bulbs they collected from retail stores.

"Nearly all"? Oh, goodie.

About six months ago, the fourth CFL lighbulb burned out in my apartment. I was thrilled when CFL's originally came out. Thrilled, that is, until, a couple of years later, it became clear that 1.) they did not last NEARLY as long as advertised and 2.) when they burned out, there was a very good chance that they would release their mercury into the room. (One of the prior CFL bulbs that had burned out turned out, upon examination, to have had a small hole in the twirlie glass, indicating that the mercury had definitely been released.)

What a way to live! Waiting for light bulbs to burn out and petrified of the nerve damage that almost certainly would result when they did so. Forget it. With the burnout of CFL Bulb Number Four, I needed light bulbs. After a little searching, I located and stocked up on 100 watt incandescent bulbs. Now, with this latest study, I'm doubly glad that I did. Al Gore and Lisa Jackson, you can keep your hazardous CFL bulbs. Nerve damage and skin problems are too high a price to pay to "save the planet", whether or not it has a fever.

[Monique is Deputy Editor of the RISC-Y Business Newsletter.]

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

The real question presented here is why do we have a Department of Energy? What is it doing for us? Wasn't it the Atomic Energy Commision before it was re-organized and re-budgeted in response to rising petroleum costs in the 1970's version of the "energy crisis"? Perhaps we could gain efficiency by putting the Department of Energy in charge of the Department of Education.

(in response to Phil's comment of the other day, I have studiously refrained from any racial aspersions in this post)

Posted by: Warrington Faust at January 6, 2013 12:11 AM

Shhhh Warrington PLEASE! Can you at least shelve your plan to do away with DOE until after Linc takes a post as Deputy Assistant Associate Under Secretary of Energy for Twirly Light-bulbs???!!!

Posted by: John Loughlin at January 6, 2013 8:52 AM

One of my economics professors worked for the Department of Energy as his first job out of school. They asked him to estimate the 5-year energy usage in a region of the country. When he turned in his report, his director told him, "No, that's too low." He showed his methodology and asked where the error was. "It's too low. Do it again." He quit afterward.

Posted by: Dan at January 6, 2013 9:14 AM


According to the European Commission, Health & Consumers DG Directorate C: Public Health and Risk Assessment Unit C7 - Risk Assessment Office; Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks, Light Sensitivity report on UV rays emitted from CFLs which you provided a link to the scientific conclusion is the following:

“Of all CFL properties, only UV/blue light radiation was identified as a potential risk factor
for the aggravation of the light-sensitive symptoms in some patients with such diseases
as chronic actinic dermatitis and solar urticaria. No evidence was found that would
indicate that either EMF or flicker could be a significant contributor.”

“The committee wishes to draw attention of the Commission Services to the fact that it
has been observed that some single-envelope CFLs emit UVB and traces of UVC
radiation. Under extreme conditions (i.e. prolonged exposures at distances <20 cm inch)
these CFLs may lead to UV exposures approaching the current workplace limit set to
protect workers from skin and retinal damage.”

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

Less than 20-cm is equal to about 7 and 13/16 inches. You got to be sitting on the CFL bulb in order to receive any UV radiation. All the CFL bulbs in my house are double-envelope energy saving bulbs so there are no extraneous UV rays from CFLs floating around in my house.

According to the link you posted to article; CFL bulbs: The U.S. EPA guidelines and the debate over mercury by John Funk, The Plain Dealer:

“Today's CFL bulbs contain an average of 4 milligrams of the metallic element in the sealed glass tube. That's about as much material as the ink on the tip of a gel pen.”

“In other words, you would need more than 7,000 bulbs to get even an ounce of mercury.”

I would probably guess that the double-envelope energy saving CFL bulbs is safer than fluorescent light tubes when it comes to breaking.

EPA does have guidelines on mercury cleanup in case you should break a fluorescent light tube or CFL bulb and it is quite simple.

“U.S. power plants emitted 44.7 tons of mercury in 2008.” I wonder how many CFL light bulbs you would have to break to equal that number?

Well at least you’ll be safe using old incandescent light bulbs and paying higher electricity rates.

Posted by: KenW at January 6, 2013 11:52 PM

Monique you said; “Al Gore and Lisa Jackson, you can keep your hazardous CFL bulbs. Nerve damage and skin problems are too high a price to pay to "save the planet", whether or not it has a fever.”

May I point out to you that old light bulbs aren’t banned, and the phase out was actually a Republican idea that was signed into law by George W. Bush in 2007.

President Bush signed the bill into law on December 19, 2007; he praised the energy efficiency standards. Energy independence and Security Act of 2007 increased the efficiency standards for light bulbs by 30% from 2012-2014. The new energy standards begin with 100 watt bulbs in 2012, and end with 45 watt bulbs in 2014. There is also a list of exempt bulb types that includes appliance lamps, rough service bulbs, 3-way, colored lamps, and plant lights. In 2020 a second set efficiency raising standards will take effect.

President Bush is quoted saying; “The bill also includes revisions to improve energy efficiency in lighting and appliances. It adopts elements of the executive order I signed requiring federal agencies to lead by example in efficiency and renewable energy use.”

Posted by: KenW at January 7, 2013 1:10 AM

The UV thing is a non-issue, there's just not enough to matter from a bulb. It would be like worrying about getting cancer from the solvents in a dry-erase marker.

As for the mercury, I think the reason "mercury released from coal [is] unacceptable but mercury released from a politically correct light bulb [is] just fine?" is that the bulb's lower electricity usage actually OFFSETS the mercury that would be released by the coal burned to power the old bulbs.

As someone who lives about a mile downwind from a small coal plant, I can actually SEE the dangers of the stuff, the outside wall of my house facing the plant gets soot on it and needs to be washed annually. There's no way to wash out my son's lungs.

Finally, regular lighting puts a lot more draw on our ancient housing stock's circuits. My home was built for natural gas lighting, and retrofitted with a few circuits of 12-Amp knob-and-tube electricity. Lighting a room for 30 watts instead of 150 probably lowers the risk of an undetected house fire starting in the walls substantially.

Posted by: mangeek at January 7, 2013 10:11 AM

Also, CFLs are only a temporary step. In the next two decades, we're going to see a proliferation of LED bulbs and OLED 'panels' that do the job even better, t an order of magnitude better efficiency.

In 20 years your light will probably just come from the whole wall or ceiling, and wall panels will be available that have touch-screen capabilities. There won't even be 'a light', and you'll be able to control the color, brightness, and hue just by talking or touching the wall, at least in new construction.

Posted by: mangeek at January 7, 2013 10:16 AM

"'U.S. power plants emitted 44.7 tons of mercury in 2008.' I wonder how many CFL light bulbs you would have to break to equal that number?"

Good points, KW. Like saying one should be equally concerned about the mercury in an occassional tuna sandwich as one should be about drinking the contents of old thermometers.

btw, most tunafish cans have about the same amount of mercury as one of those compact fluorescent bulbs (picturing AR's "science" reporter frantically flinging Starkist cans out the window).

Posted by: Russ at January 7, 2013 10:46 AM

I realize Russ is sooo much smarter than any of the rest of us,but avoiding too much mercury in canned tuna is not that hard.Use light instead of albacore and try to use light tuna from the Pacific which for some reason has the least mercury.Mercury is less dangerous if one is not a child or pregnant,but of course it is still a hazard.

Posted by: joe bernstein at January 7, 2013 1:32 PM

Ken/Russ. Please do the math. 45 tons of Mercury released over the earth's surface in a period of over 365 days vrs 2-5 mg Mercury that could be released by a broken CFL in the average child's bedroom within moments. Which is the higher exposure level? I think you'll find the CFL wins by a large margin.

Additionally, a can of average tuna contains .05 mg of Mercury--or 1/10 the mercury in a CFL. There is enough fact-free conversation in the world without adding to it.

That said, I have to agree the exposure is an acceptable risk. In addition, CFL's will soon be overtaken by LEDs, as mangeek pointed out. I have some newer models--a softer, warmer light and instant on...

Posted by: Mike at January 7, 2013 2:33 PM

"Additionally, a can of average tuna contains .05 mg of Mercury--or 1/10 the mercury in a CFL."

Well I definitely wouldn't recommend eating or powdering and inhaling a CFL (the only way you'd ingest all the mercury in the bulb). Also not nearly as satisfying as the tuna btw.

Posted by: Russ at January 7, 2013 3:45 PM


This is bad news!!!! Canada ran scientific tests on single envelope and double envelope CFL and 60W incandescent light bulb. The single envelope “Twirlie Lightbulbs” CFL are just as dangerous in UV radiation as your standard 60W incandescent light bulb!!!!

Monique as you said; “Now, with this latest study, I'm doubly glad that I did. Al Gore and Lisa Jackson, you can keep your hazardous CFL bulbs. Nerve damage and skin problems are too high a price to pay to "save the planet", whether or not it has a fever.”

Better quickly get rid of all your incandescent light bulbs as they also give off UV rays!!!!!! Sit in the dark or light some candles to be safe!!!!!!!!

Lasers and Electro-Optics Division, Electromagnetics Division, Consumer and Clinical Radiation Protection Bureau, Environmental and Radiation Health Sciences Directorate, Health Canada; Report on Health Canada Survey of Ultraviolet Radiation and Electric and Magnetic Fields from Compact Fluorescent Lamps dated December 21, 2009 scientifically concluded:

“CFLs as demonstrated by the test results do not pose a health hazard to the general population
from either the ultraviolet radiation or the associated electric and magnetic fields.”

“UVR At 30 cm, single-envelope CFLs have a maximum daily UVR exposure similar to the test
results for a 60W incandescent lamp. Therefore, it is recommended that single envelope
CFLs not be used at distances less than 30 cm to avoid any long-term health effects in the
general population.”

“Based on an analysis of the spectral irradiance data for CFLs at a distance of 30 cm, (and
by extension greater distances), the bulbs do not pose a significant risk of acute injury to
the eyes or skin, as compared to traditional incandescent lamps. As such, CFLs tested
and currently available on the Canadian market do not have issues of non-compliance
with the RED Act.”

“EMF The results of the testing of the CFLs demonstrated that the electric and magnetic fields
arising from the use of these lamps are below exposure standards that are based on
established effects and thus should not be an issue of health concern.”

Document Report Link:

Posted by: KenW at January 7, 2013 6:33 PM

Wow...nice to see all the brave male greenies have surfaced to trash Ms. Monique. Let us agree that technology will make things better...... eventually. I work in an industry where LED has won the day (RR signals). They are brighter, more efficient (use less amperage) and less angle specific (better visibility). However fellow males let us not trash the lady too harshly as she raises the bigger issue of "choice". Now all you libbies (and libertarians) are about "choice" are you not? In my home incandescent clear light bulbs reign. They look better than that ugly Immelt candle and I LIKE them. Get out of my house!.....unless of course you bring over a bottle of 1961 Bordeaux....oops...is that still OK Russ?

Posted by: ANTHONY at January 7, 2013 7:41 PM


Actually the newer double envelope CFLs look like old fashion light bulbs right down to ceiling fan lights and globe bathroom vanity lights and the LEDs are not far behind with ones made by Philips and EcoSmart.

I’ve had all EcoSmart double envelope CFLs in my house for 5 years with no failure and my electric bill only averages around $58 per month in a state with the highest electricity rates in the nation.

I’m eyeballing Philips LEDs because the prices have come down in Home Depot to reasonable levels for the indicated 15 year operational lifespan payback.

The LED bulbs for same light output are lower wattage than my current CFLs and are instant on instead of the ramp-up to brightness CFLs plus I’ll be getting rid of any “mercury” hazard changing over to new lighting.

Posted by: KenW at January 7, 2013 8:13 PM

Looks like you've done your homework KenW. LED da kine eh? Former West Mauian...Aloha.

Posted by: ANTHONY at January 8, 2013 12:59 AM

"...is that still OK Russ?"

I don't personally care what kind of light bulbs you use (with small kids I don't use them in many applications in my home). I simply objected to the hyperbolic claims of the local "science" reporter that CFLs fry your eyeballs or whatever.

Posted by: Russ at January 8, 2013 9:38 AM
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