Why LED? The risks associated with CFLs outweigh the benefits.

Why LED? The risks associated with CFLs outweigh the benefits.

Woman holding CFL and regular bulbs

The Issue

More and more Canadians are replacing regular incandescent light bulbs with more energy-efficient products, such as compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). While CFLs are being promoted because they are energy-efficient, their use has also raised health concerns.


Background

The federal government has adopted a national standard for lighting efficiency that will come into effect in 2012.  Most traditional, incandescent bulbs currently available will not meet the required performance level. The objective is to ensure that only more efficient bulbs such as CFLs, enhanced halogens, and others that are expected in the near future, are used in Canada.

Fluorescent lights have been around for a long time, and CFLs are the latest variation on the traditional tube fluorescent light. CFLs fit into a standard light bulb socket. Like the old-style fluorescent lights, they use a different method to produce light, which makes them energy-efficient. They are low-pressure, mercury vapour lamps that produce invisible ultraviolet (UV) rays. When the lamp is turned on, the mercury vaporizes inside the lamp and becomes 'excited' by the high voltage electricity. The UV then 'excites' the phosphor coating inside the lamp, which emits the light you see.

With more Canadians using CFLs, some have begun to question their safety, including the level of UV emissions, the electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) they create, and the presence of mercury in the lamps. In response to concerns, Health Canada has conducted UV radiation and EMF tests on a range of CFL bulbs, and submitted a final report outlining the results to Natural Resources Canada who commissioned the study.


What CFLs Emit

Ultraviolet Radiation


Canadians can be exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from a variety of natural and artificial sources, including the sun, welding equipment, lasers, tanning equipment, and fluorescent lights. UV can be beneficial: it can be used to kill germs and treat various skin conditions, and it is needed to form vitamin D in our bodies.  At the same time, there are risks attached to all forms of radiation, and overexposure to UV has been linked to sunburns, premature skin aging, skin cancer, eye problems, and weakening of the immune system. 

Light bulbs in grassAs noted above, fluorescent lights produce UV when the mercury vapour is 'excited' by the electrical current. However, the amount of UV produced is so small that it is not considered hazardous to your health. The results of the Health Canada study showed that, when either CFLs or regular light bulbs (incandescent) are used at a distance of 30 cm or more, UV emissions do not present a health risk to the general population.  Health Canada recommends that people keep this minimum distance between themselves and any light source.  When CFLs or regular light bulbs are used daily at 30 cm, exposure should be limited to no longer than 3 consecutive hours.

Although the amount of UV emitted by CFLs poses no problem for the average person, some people are extremely sensitive to UV and may be affected by the amount of UV produced by CFLs.  Those who have Lupus or another auto-immune disease and certain skin conditions can be sensitive to the UV from CFLs.  If you believe you are suffering from symptoms related to UV, you should consult your health care provider.


Electric and Magnetic Fields

Electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) surround all electrical equipment from appliances to power cords to outdoor power lines. You cannot see or feel them. An electric field forms whenever you plug a lamp or an appliance into an outlet, even if it is not turned on. The higher the voltage, the stronger the electric field.

A magnetic field forms when the current is flowing through the wire or appliance. The greater the current, the stronger the magnetic field. Electric and magnetic fields can occur separately or together. For example, when you plug in a lamp, it creates an electric field. When you turn the lamp on, the flow of current creates a magnetic field, in addition to the electric field.

Like other electric appliances found in the home, CFLs emit EMFs. Health Canada has made measurements of the EMFs at 20 centimetres from the lamps, and when compared to departmental and international science-based guidelines, the levels of emissions are well below the maximum levels of exposure. Health Canada does not consider the EMFs from CFLs to be a health risk. This conclusion is in line with current international scientific opinion.

 

Click Here to read more from the Health Canada website.