Are the new light bulbs a health risk?

Study to examine if what’s good for the environment is bad for people


Health Canada is reviewing the safety of energy-saving light bulbs to determine whether the amount of UV light and electromagnetic radiation they emit is safe. The federal government launched its study on compact fluorescent lights in December, following several public health warnings by British medical professionals.

British health officials have warned that the new bulbs could worsen existing skin conditions, like eczema and dermatitis. Skin disorders that are photosensitive could react to the more intense light of fluorescent bulbs, which emit UV rays similar to outdoor exposure levels on a sunny day. Britain’s Health Protection Agency now recommends that people should not be closer than 30 centimetres from the energy-saving variety for more than one hour per day.

Health Canada says the reason for the study was the increased use of the energy-saving bulbs. Any relation to the public health warnings in Britain is purely coincidental, says Roberta Bradley, Health Canada’s director of consumer and clinical radiation. The final results will be released in the summer 2009 or early fall.

There are also concerns that the low-energy bulbs could be linked to headaches, nausea and seizures in people with epilepsy. The British charity Epilepsy Action says that some people with the condition have complained of dizziness, loss of focus and discomfort after being exposed to light from the energy-saving bulbs. The cause of the problem is not known as the bulbs do not flicker at the rate that would normally cause ill effects. “We have received calls from a number of people who believe they are feeling unwell, in terms of headaches, nausea, seizures,” says Keeley Eastwood, spokesperson for Epilepsy Action, in an interview with Maclean’s. “But epilepsy has so many triggers and causes—it’s really hard to pinpoint what causes it.”

The British government is set to ban incandescent lights. The traditional bulbs will be phased out by 2011, one year before similar legislation comes into effect in Canada. However, a number of interest groups are calling for exemption from the new laws. The British Association of Dermatologists says persons with light sensitive conditions must be able to continue using the traditional bulbs, even after the nation-wide ban. Epilepsy groups may also demand exemptions depending on the results of on-going research on fluorescents, says Eastwood.

The Canadian Dermatology Association (CDA) is waiting to find out the results of the Health Canada study before taking any action. If people need to keep a certain distance from the low energy bulbs, that will affect how they should be used at work and home, says Michelle Albagli, executive director of the CDA, in an interview with Maclean’s. “The CDA is watching with great interest. We would like to know if these light bulbs could be dangerous.”

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Are the new light bulbs a health risk?

  1. Coming soon to a government near you… The National Bulb Registry

    • Well, it’s obvious that people commit more crimes at night, and bulbs allow people to see their victims, so if we had less bulbs, that would reduce crime.

    • I have been having patches on my face and eye lids that are red and are painful like unto a burn. After weeks of treating these spots, I had a few days when it seemed the skin was clear and then more patches would develop. This has been going on for months and I’ve never had anything like this in my whole life. These bulbs are coming out of my house today.

      My daughter has suffered from constant nausea in the last couple of months which is unusual because it is almost every day and quite severe.

      What an outrageous situation!

      • I am please to see that people are wakening up to the health hazzards these light bulbs cause.
        I have been very worried and annoyed that we in europe will not be able to buy an old fashioned light bulb in a years time – hopefully the more people that protest and more research is done we all will be saved from this “radiation” Not only that these bulbs are not at all enviromently friendly when it it’s time for them to be disposed of. comment from sf – yes you are correct they do contain mercury and special proceedures need to be taken if you break one ie don’t pick up the pieces with bare hands, do not hoover
        up broken pieces (not for the sake of your hoover but because of the vapour) – and when you have finnished doing all that you have to open your windows to let in fresh air so as to disperse the toxins.

      • I wanted to give an update. It’s been a little over 2 weeks since I’ve replaced these low energy bulbs and I’m happy to say my skin is almost cleared up of the red, dry, patches.

        My daughter isn’t experiencing regular nausea.

        I am so relieved. I also met someone at a salon who was saying she had been experiencing patches like mine and was totally perturbed about it. She planned to take replace her bulbs, I’ll be seeing her in about 2 weeks.

  2. The question that must now be asked is why did the Ontario government rushed to ban the traditional (tungsten) bulbs, before the safety of the new energy-saving kind was established? The suspicions about possible health hazards have surfaced long before the (ban) legislation.
    Was it Over-zealousness, Ignorance, Campaign money?
    Cynicism any one?

    • overzealousness is a common trait of the left.

  3. I have compact fluorescent bulbs throughout my house and spend hours every night close to one, but have never gotten a tan, much less a sunburn. The claim that they “emit UV rays similar to outdoor exposure levels on a sunny day ” is obvious nonsense. Is the rest of the article similarly unreliable?

    • You sound like the usual eco-fanatic. People could be glowing in the dark and you wouldn’t give a rat’s ass. These reports have been coming in from all over the world. I guess they are all just imagining it. I know this might rain on your eco-feelgood parade but this is just another example of overzealous loons stampeding politicans into doing something, anything to look “green”. I guess all these people should just “suck it up” for the enviroment, even if it poisions there own.

    • Well that settles it, if they do no harm to Cameron, then they do no harm.

      However, I must agree that it is not possible to get a tan from a typical light bulb. However, I think the confusion here comes from what is meant by “UV levels”. What is a level? Spectrum? Wave-length? Energy? Intensity? There is no such thing as a UV level.

    • Even if the whole article is written by an incompetent five year old with a blackhawk fantasy, my right to choose is not debatable.

      I demand the freedom to, you know, make that decision for myself. Is that too out there? Or unscientific?

      The fact that this is becoming law is beyond ridiculous.

  4. I’ve read that the CF bulbs contain mercury, which means you must be careful to clean up properly when they break.

    For aesthetic reasons I think the traditional bulbs are sometimes better.

    • They do indeed contain mercury, sf, each and every one of ’em. Read on….

  5. My mom had a CF bulb in the lamp beside her recliner, where she sits for several hours a day. She complained of dry eyes and had seen her doctor about it. After these reports were on the news, she took the bulb out and replaced it with the old incandescent. Her eyes aren’t dry anymore. Not much of a sample, I know, but when more people complain about adverse effects from these bulbs a bigger picture emerges.

    I dislike the quality/color of light these bulbs emit (fluorescent bulbs in general, except for full spectrum) and the fact that they contain mercury.

    I wonder when LED “bulbs” will be available?

    • Flourescent lighting triggers severe headaches for me, especially when I try to read a book under one, so you can imagine the torture I endured when I was going to school. Every day when I got home from school, I had to sit in the dark for at least a couple of hours until the headaches went away, and if for some reason I wasn’t able to, I functioned poorly because of the pain.

      I agree with the others about the disposal problems, too. What’s worse, though, is that the cheaper imported ones often burn out prematurely and often smoke and sizzle when they do, creating a serious fire hazard.

      One last thing–the proponents of these cursed things talk about the energy being wasted through the emission of heat. During a cold Canadian winter, how can anyone say that the extra heat generated by incandescent light bulbs be called a ‘waste?’ When it’s minus 30, any heat is most welcome, no?

      I wish these legislators would do their research a little more instead of these politically correct, knee-jerk, poorly-though-out clumps of legislation.

    • LED bulbs ARE available – if in Croatia, then must be in your country, too. We're scarcely pioneers in anything.

      • I am the owner of a beauty spa, in may 2010, I had all my light bulbs in the spa change to the new energy efficient fluorescent blubs.
        after two weeks I started to have headaches, light headed and a bit weak, lots of body pain.I had no idea what was wrong !! with me. just was not feeling very well, till one of my client told me change your bulbs back to the old ones ! and see what happens after one day I started to feel better, and the disseness was gone.

  6. I had an itchy oozie skin condition on my back for 8 months. Dermatologist couldn’t help, other than cream to reduce itch. It spread to cover over half my back, Saw a TV show about skin problems and CFL bulbs. Removed bulbs I had bought 9 months ago. Next day skin wasn’t as itchy. Two weeks later skin condition gone. Have scars, but no “condition”. Probably only a small percentage of people have such adverse effects, BUT it’s terrible for those who do. People should be warned about this potential problem.

    • Yvonne, a lady I work with has lupus, and the lights affect her in much the same way. I’ve seen some of the rashes she gets and, my lord, I don’t know how she manages to keep her sense of humour. Strong person, she is.

      That said, I’m glad you found the solution for your skin problems, and I hope for the sake of yourself and others with this problem, this hairbrained idea of banning incandescents by 2012 (think I got the yr. right) is scrapped.

  7. I replaced all my incandescent bulbs with spirals as soon as they came out – back when they were $7 or $8 per bulb. I’ve had a few of them go on me already. One thing I noticed is that when they go, the emit one hell of a lot of smoke; really acrid-smelling smoke. Whatever is in that smoke, it can’t be good for you. How bad it is I have no idea.

    Also, if you sit too close to those spiral bulbs (such as a reading lamp on your desk) and the bulb is too strong, you will indeed get a bad skin rash, if you’re prone to it. I’ve had it happen. However, this is only when I was in very close proximity to the bulb, and I was using a bulb too strong for a small desk lamp anyway (a 100W equivalent in a desk lamp – duh – that was ‘toopid.).

    So, the skin thing I’m not too worried about. The smoke that comes out when the bulb burns out? Yeah, that worries me a little bit. And what happens when our landfills fill up with these things? Each spiral is “self-ballasted”, which means it has its own ballast full of chemicals needed to produce the florescent light. With old-style florescents, you just had to replace the tube; the ballast stayed in the ceiling for years. Now the ballast gets tossed out along with the light. That’s a lot of extra chemicals being disposed of.

    • I fully admit I am no expert but one would have to think that a smoking object full of mercury would be emiting mercury in the vapor coming off it. Dear God, I can’t think of a worse senario. Breathing in murcury. This is a so typical of the eco-fanatics. Peoples in Pubnico Nova Scotia had to abandon their homes when one of those lovely wind farms was put up beside them. Everyone in the place was getting violently ill. Their homes are now worthless. The eco nuts are insisting they be put up on every hillside and mountain ruining pristine countrysides. The eco-fraudsters could care less. How about electric cars. Another false economy. The biggest headace disposing of a conventional car is the 40 lb. battery. Electric car=500 lb battery. Gee, is it only me who sees a bigger problem there? I suggest everyone U-Tube George Carlin’s take on eco-phonies “saving the planet”. It’s priceless, he was on to those con artists like Lizzie May/Gore and Suzuki a long time ago.

      • You’re right about the car batteries that’s for sure. The standard answer is: “Oh, we’ll recycle them.” Just try and explain to a proponent of electric cars what goes into recycling a single, small battery. Electric cars and hybrids are nothing but a ticking time bomb for the environment. The enviro-nutjobs aren’t interested in hearing it of course, but in five years battery-powered cars will be as discredited as “biofuels” are right now. If enough of the countryside gets uglified with windmills, maybe people will come to their senses about them too. The amount of effort and resources it takes to link up all those little turbines to the power grid is obscene, and those who are promoting wind power as an economical source of energy are out-and-out frauds.

        • Yeah, like T. Boone Pickens in the US – what an environemental nutjob. That guy is further to the left than Castro.

  8. I’m making an argument that is similar to the argument for the gun registry. If we got rid of guns, knives and light bulbs, then we would have less crime.

  9. I have noticed that these new bulbs do not last as long as they are supposed to and that they are overpriced. I believe more research is needed on there possible links to exposure problems.I

    • They don’t last that long at all. I suppose some might last 7 years as advertised, but the majority go after a year or two.

      • And the way they “go”, can be very unpleasant. The ballast (base of the light) practically melted today on one of the few of these things I am still using. I’m just happy the it was in an open fixture, and was not close enough to set anything on fire.

        Incandescent bulbs generally fail in a much safer manner – no smoke, no smell, very, very seldom any sudden fire hazard – the filament just sags and breaks.

  10. I dislike these things for a reason not at all mentioned here. They are impossible to dim! (The “dimmable” CFLs are nowhere to be found.)

    I have a fully automated lighting setup, and If I want to use these things, I need to use a relay to switch them on and off – on being full power, of course. All the incandescent lights I run always operate at anywhere from 25% to 75% of full output, and of course at 25% to 75% of power draw as well. I dim lights to the light level needed, saving both power and bulb lifetime (many of the incandescent lights I have last 5 to 10 years).

    With all the manufacturing, disposal, and usage problems these things suffer, I simply refuse to use them. They are a looming nightmare for the environment, let alone being mostly useless.

    • At present I refuse to use them as well, tdr–what browns me off is that the government and the enviro-nutjobs want to take that choice away from us, and we’re losing more and more choices every year. As I mentioned earlier, the two things that concern me the most is the mercury in these things and the way they ‘blow’. How many people will have to lose their homes to a fire because of these things? How much environmental damage will be done before legislators realize “oh, man, we screwed up”? How far are the enviro-nazi’s willing to go in their attempt to prove their viability? And, how large an impact are these same enviro-nazi’s willing to inflict on this planet just to secure their legacy?

      Make ya wonder, doesn’t it?

  11. There is a simple solution to this problem. GET OUTSIDE MORE OFTEN! Get up in the morning and go to bed at a normal hour and stop sitting up all night. Then you can turn your lights off all day and only have to worry about lightbulbs for the 2 or 3 hours of darkness before you go to sleep.

    • I, for one, am a night shift worker, Bart, and it takes some time to unwind. Getting up in the AM is not an option for myself and a whole lot of other people I know. Also, where I live, it gets dark at 4:30 PM in the heart of winter, and there’s still a lot of inhabited territory northward from where I sit, where it gets darker even earlier and stays that way even longer. Many people live in basement suites, where light is rather limited at any given time, and they need to switch on the lights the moment they came home regardless of the time of day or the season.

      As the economy worsens, jobs like mine will increase and those magical 9-5 job that pay the bills will become more elusive.

      At any rate, as the article and the other posters, along with myself, is about the potential hazards of these bulbs. Putting the esthetics aside, people like myself are displeased by legislators imposing limited choices based on pseudo-science. To me, and others, these things are not a viable solution to a perceived energy consumption “problem’ considering their inherent toxicity, both potentially to the user, and to the environment at the moment of disposal. And, considering how the video I saw depicted the fiery way they “die”, the resulting fire in an older home, or worse still, a MOBILE home, could be disastrous–and deadly.

    • Have you ever lived on the west coast? The sun hardly shines and you need lights on during the day to see anything during the winter months, which happen to be more than 1/2 of the year!

  12. I get red rashes on my arms and i’ve never had ANY allergies or serious health problems in my life and it is all because I changed my bulbs. Wondered what it was but then I read all this about the new bulbs. Can they not be contained within some sort of UV flitering shade? Are people going to get melanoma’s from it? What a stupid way to become ill as if there aren’t enough problems in life already I do not need another one.. fix it or fk it because I do not want the aggro.

  13. The US National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) published a paper called “Ultraviolet Radiation from Fluorescent Lamps”, in which they debunk the fear that standard fluorescent lamps are a major skin cancer risk. In the paper, they refer to a journal article, “An estimation of squamous cell carcinoma risk from ultraviolet radiation emitted by fluorescent lamps” ( ), as finding:

    “one could expect that the small contribution of UV due to indoor lighting will not be a major health concern. Lytle et al addressed this by surveying 58 fluorescent lamp types for UV emission. Using these data, the UV exposure at typical office light levels was calculated for luminaires using large grid parabolic louvers that did not block UV. This estimated indoor UV exposure during one eight hour workday is equivalent to just over a minute of midday solar exposure on a clear July day in Washington, D.C.”

    It’s also true, as some commenters have mentioned, that CFLs contain mercury–about as much as would fit on the period at the end of this sentence. This does mean you can’t just trash the bulb when you’re done with it, but we already know better than to trash batteries and motor oil (right??), so surely we’re grown-up enough to add a certain variety of light-bulbs to the list of carefully-disposable waste as well without our entire lives being thrown into chaos.

    Additionally, a CFL uses only one quarter the amount of power required by a traditional incandescent bulb. If this is eliminating the need for energy from a coal plant (ie. the prairie provinces and much of the USA), it is reducing emissions of mercury, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and a host of other pollutants. Coal plants are also the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions globally – more than all of the cars and trucks combined. Even if all the mercury from CFLs were released directly into the environment (but please let’s try not to do that!) it would still be a net SAVING compared to the mercury that was being pumped out there to power the old bulbs

    Anyway, how many people really sit with the lightbulb less than a foot away from their face (and do so for several hours a day at that), a distance beyond which the British report ( ) that started this whole kerfuffle didn’t find any particular UV problem to begin with? And even if there ARE many such people… Hmmm, buy 4 times the energy to provide the same amount of light or use a quarter of that and move the lamp a few more inches away. Tough call…

    • Agree with Arvedui. Other than a few patients who are extremely sensitive to UV radiation most of the anti CFL talk is just sensationalism. Nevertheless it will take the governments to get to the bottom of the health concerns in order to quiet irrational fears. It may be noted that CFL usage is prevalent in India and China. We have not heard any health concern from those large populations.

      • Those people in India also have darker skin complexions. Higher melanin content will likely reduce their sensitivity to UV. East asian skin types have a thicker layer of keratin, thought to similarly protect against UV. This is what gives their skin a “yellow” complexion.
        In a way, these energy saving spiral CFL bulbs are a form of racism against people with white skin! Those with English, Scottish, or Irish ancestry are most vulnerable.

    • I read that those spiral CFL bulbs can give off much more UV radiation as the bulb ages over time, becauses little cracks appear in the phosphor coating on the inside of the bulb. I wonder if these types of studies take this into account and test bulbs that have already been in use for a while.

      Office lights give off somewhat less UV radiation because the fluorescent tubes are covered, and the plastic diffuser panel helps filter out much (but not all) of the UV.

  14. Incandescent bulbs can consume just as little energy if you combine them with a technique known as "turning the things off when you're not using them" or having motion sensors and timers connected to them so they time-out. Dark places can be illuminated with an ancient invention called the "LED nighlight" so that you don't find yourself in the dark when the timer goes off. Easy.

    CFL's are big business trying to cash in on environmental fears. They can charge a premium. Retrofitting lamps with switches adn timers is a one-time investment, whereas CFL's require regular replacement and repeat purchases.

    Be Inspired.

  15. there are commodity, cheap / in-expensive, poor quality bulbs and then there are better quality, commercially marketed, slightly higher priced CFL bulbs, with true warranty's, 8-12 times longer lifespans, less mercury content to be managed and some that are dimmable – the markets: residential or commercial – alot of people get what they pay for – Do you want to TRY to save money ? or do you Really want to save money – the options are out there and available to everyone – just do your home work – IT will pay off for itself.


  17. I agree with you Daniel, these fluro lights are carcinogenic due to the UV radiation. I have been using one in my desk lamp on the left side of the bed and have noticed a mole on the left of my forehead – I attributed that to the fluoro light.

    I am going to get rid of these fluoro lights and will replace them with LED lighting – I dont care how much it costs. In time when LED lighting technology becomes cheap enough, you can be certain there will be bans on fluorescent lighting,

  18. It seems outrageous to me that fluorescent bulbs are being mandated with no regard for those who suffer from lupus, migraines, psoriasis, and other disorders which are greatly exacerbated by fluorescent bulbs. In the case of a lupus patient, the effects can do more than cause headaches and skin rashes; they can lead to kidney failure and even death. Yet these patients are being completely ignored. To mandate that a citizen must use these light bulbs in his own home or work area seems to me to ignore the rights of the disabled and to place no value on individual health. Where is the concept of a government serving the people?

  19. Why discussing this at all if there are LEDs?

  20. British health officials have warned that the new bulbs could worsen existing skin conditions, like eczema and dermatitis. Skin disorders that are photosensitive could react to the more intense light of fluorescent bulbs, which emit UV rays similar to outdoor exposure levels on a sunny day. Britain's Health Protection Agency now recommends that people should not be closer than 30 centimetres from the energy-saving variety for more than one hour per day.

  21. I hate new bulbs! the light it horrible and they pose way more health risk and are bad for the environment in landfills.
    I bought one for my bedroom. no knowing they cannot be used with a dimmer.
    first thing I noticed is a buzzing noise and a terrible blue hue in the room that bothered my eyes. it's not a natural light at all.
    second, it lasted exactly one week and was actually broken inside the light fixture.
    when I took the cover off it fell on my bed and broke the rest of the way.

  22. Fluorescent Light bulbs can cause seizure disorders and dermatitis. This is also having a big effect on children because it brings on attention deficit disorder. The light bulb has a bad effect on Central Nervous System and also increases a problem in learning disorder to children.

  23. Now the  LEDs too!

    2011 extensive cross-faculty University of California Research

    “Consumers should be aware of the potential harm from contaminants
    found in LED bulbs:
    Toxins like lead and arsenic are linked to various cancers, brain
    damage, hypertension, skin rashes, and other illnesses.
    “Measures that could be put in place may be to wear personal safety
    protection when cleaning up a broken LED bulb, whether at home, or
    with a cleanup crew at a traffic accident.
    Under today’s law, LEDs are disposed of in typical landfills and are
    not classified as toxic, but the researchers are hoping that their
    study will change that.

    The diodes (LEDs) are widely hailed as safer than compact fluorescent bulbs,
    which contain dangerous mercury. But, as Oladele Ogunseitan, chair of
    UC Irvine’s Department of Population Health & Disease Prevention said,
    they weren’t properly tested for potential environmental health
    impacts before being marketed as the preferred alternative to
    inefficient incandescent bulbs, now being phased out under California law.”

  24. fluorescent lamps have a long life as compared to other lighting bulbs..I have using Havells fluorescent lamps from quite a long time and till now I hadn’t faced any issues either it be related to lighting or health..Havells takes full care of his customers when designing any product.

  25. CFL and fluorescent bulbs leak out UV radiation, and I am
    one of those rare individuals with some skin sensitivity. After 20-40 minutes
    of exposure it causes discomfort. The feeling is difficult to describe,
    somewhat like being “roughed up”, almost soreness, a sort of
    irritation but not quite pain. For some reason, exposure to sunlight does
    not seem to affect me as much. Anyway, I can’t imagine that all that additional
    UV is good for me, as it’s not recommended to spend too many hours in direct
    sunlight either. I know they supposedly say that sunlight has more UV than fluorescent, but I can only say fluorescent (especially the bare tubes without a cover) effects me several times as much. I read some individuals actually have skin sensitivity to the violet part of of the vissible spectrum, I don’t know if this could be affecting me. I went to the doctor to test for porphyria but it came back negetive. I think there needs to be more research into this. Unfortunately, I suspect it is all being pushed under the rug in the name of “helping the environment”.

    In addition, fluorescent lights (even the supposedly “flicker free” ones) strain my eyes when I am under them all day at school. It certainly makes it more difficult to concentrate, and I have no doubt it is negatively impacting my overall school performance.

    Why is Canada banning the old light bulbs? Incandescent lights are actually 100% efficient – it is just that they give off their energy in the form of heat in addition to light. If you are using a portable electric heater in your room at night, it makes absolutely no sense to switch to “energy efficient” alternative technologies. If people just switched off their lights when they are not using them it wouldn’t be an issue.

  26. The ban on incandescent lights is a little far fetched i think. But I’m all for replacing and using energy efficient lighting. I have in my home and office LED possini lighting. Not only looks great, but saves energy/money!