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Understanding The Dangers of Fluorescent Light Bulbs
You see them in every grocery store and home center - those funny-looking curly compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) that are rapidly replacing the old round bulbs. And pretty soon, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 kicks in, requiring bulbs to be 25 to 30 percent more efficient by 2012 to 2014, and 70 percent more efficient by 2020, effectively phasing out traditional incandescent bulbs as a way to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The energy efficiency of CFLs may be significant, but unlike traditional light bulbs, there is a hidden danger sealed inside each little bulb that requires special handling and disposal.Mercury – a potent, developmental neurotoxin that can damage the brain, liver, kidneys and central nervous system. Infants and young children are particularly vulnerable to mercury’s toxic effects. Even at low levels, mercury is capable of causing a number of health problems including impair motor functioning, cognitive ability and emotional problems. Higher or prolonged exposure can result in much more serious health problems.
CFLs are marketed as “safe” and don’t pose any health risks as long as the glass remains intact. The danger comes if the bulbs are cracked, broken or not disposed of properly. Although it sounds like a miniscule amount – 4 to 5 milligrams – there is enough mercury in just one fluorescent light bulb to contaminate 6,000 gallons of water.
SCENIHR study and report
The Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) in 2008 reviewed the connections between artificial light and numerous human diseases, including:
  • Ultraviolet radiation emitted by fluorescent lighting can increase an individual's exposure to carcinogenic radiation by 10 to 30 per cent per year, with an associated increased probability of contracting squamous cell carcinoma by 4 percent.
  • Melanoma has been shown to not be affected by CFLs through normal use.
  • The constituent blue light of CFLs can aggravate retinal diseases in susceptible people, but it is unlikely to occur.
  • The report states that "people with Autism/Asperger's syndrome have reported problems which they attributed to fluorescent lighting and any deleterious effects on sufferers of autism or Asperger Syndrome from CFLs cannot be dismissed.
  • The inner-ear condition Ménière's disease can be aggravated by flicker. Sufferers of vertigo are recommended to not use fluorescent lights.
  • Polymorphous light eruption is a condition affecting the skin thought to be caused by an adverse reaction to ultraviolet light. Its prevalence across Europe is 10-20% of the population Artificial light sources may provoke the condition, and CFLs have been shown to produce an eruption.
  • Chronic actinic dermatitis is a condition where a subject's skin becomes inflamed due to a reaction to sunlight or artificial light. Its prevalence in Scotland is 16.5 per 100,000 population. There is evidence that CFLs worsen the condition.
  • The autoimmune disease lupus is exacerbated by CFLs.
  • There is evidence that actinic prurigo is worsened by CFLs . This disease affects 3.3% of the general population.
  • 3.1% of the population suffer solar urticaria, a skin disorder affected by ultraviolet light. Some patients are directly affected by CFLs.
  • Phytophotodermatitis may be aggravated by the additional levels of ultraviolet light emitted by CFLs.
  • Patients undergoing photodynamic therapy are at additional risk of adverse photosensitive reactions caused by CFLs.
  • Self-reporting suggests that 21% of chronic fatigue syndrome patients experience sensitivity to light but there have been no studies into the association between chronic fatigue syndrome and CFLs.
  • One cause of cataracts is exposure to ultraviolet light. Provided the level of UV emission from lamps is within safe limits, and the lamp a sufficient distance away from the individual, there should be no increased risk of developing cataracts.
  • Photophobia is a symptom of excessive sensitivity to light which affects 5 to 20% of the population. No studies have been conducted into the effect of CFLs on sufferers of photophobia but there is the possibility for CFLs to affect sufferers.
  • There is evidence that flicker can cause seizures in patients with photosensitive epilepsy, but there has yet to be any evidence to date attributing seizures to compact fluorescent lamps.
  • Self-reporting suggests fluorescent lamps aggravate dyslexia, but tests show that dyslexic patients are unable to detect flicker emanating from light sources. This opinion was updated by SCENIHR in 2012, with no significant changes from the opinion of 2008.

Electromagnetic radiation risksThe World Health Organization’s IARC categorizes ELF and radiofrequency exposure as class 2B possibly carcinogenic. The electronic ballasts in fluorescent lights emit low and very low frequency radiation (1–100 kHz) with steep pulses and harmonics, and some fluorescent bulbs emit relatively high electric field strengths, although the effects of these can be reduced significantly by maintaining an appropriate distance from them. These fields can induce relatively high fields in humans standing or sitting close to them. Electric fields of this intensity have been associated with biological effects.The Seletun international scientific panel has called for all new CFLs to be fitted with filters, since studies also show that CFLs conduct voltage transients and harmonics (“dirty electricity”) onto the wiring and that these can have biological effects, especially as regards diabetes  and cancers.

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