Few People Know the Dirty Secret Compact Fluorescent Bulbs Keep
By Luis R. Miranda
The Real Agenda
May 5, 2010
For many people, fluorescent light bulbs -those swirly compact wonders that everyone keeps pushing on you- are instruments for saving energy and money on the light bill every month. But for many users of those bulbs the results after exposing themselves to the bright light, has gone beyond what they expected. Instead of providing light to read a book or take on a chore at home, fluorescent light bulbs are the perpetrators of massive burns, irritation and skin rashes. These skin conditions have appeared after just 10 to 20-minute exposures to the bulbs’ radiation.
Besides the rashes and irritation, victims of the bulbs also blame them for headaches, lack of concentration, dizziness, and a general state of discomfort. The irritation varies in severity from person to person and it can appear in different places on the skin; from the arms to the legs, ears, neck and hands. Those who have experienced the consequences of the emissions from the bulbs concur that after they removed them from their homes, all the afflictions went away in a matter of days, or even hours.
A recent investigation carried out by a television news program called 16:9, brought out an unknown fact. The compact fluorescent bulbs emit ultraviolet radiation. That’s right, the same radiation found in solar rays. Scientists and consumer product protection agencies like Health Canada, studied the bulbs and discovered they are not sold with prismatic diffusers to filter the UV radiation that comes out of them. This is thought to be the cause of the rashes and other affections that the bulbs cause, especially on people with skin diseases.
The questions raised after realizing the bulbs give out UV radiation are how much of it do they emit, and could it be harmful enough to cause cancer? These two questions have not been answered by the agencies that are supposed to oversee consumer safety in North America, therefore there isn’t an official position. What there is, is a growing number of consumers who were mildly and severely ‘burned’ by the radiation that comes out of the bulbs. How did people come to this conclusion? Most of them had blood tests performed on them to rule out any kind of blood disease or skin condition, and in all cases the tests came out negative.
After months without any answers from the consumer protection agencies, the program 16:9 traveled to London, England, where government scientists studied the bulbs and reached the results everyone who uses the fluorescent bulbs is afraid to hear. Scientists found that from a random sample of bulbs, one of every five emitted high levels of UV radiation. The conclusion is that the mercury contained in the bulbs, which is needed for them to operate, is what creates the ultraviolet radiation blamed for the headaches, rashes and stains of people’s skin.
While fluorescent light bulbs are more and more common in every household, countries like Canada will ban the traditional incandescent ones by 2012, which will limit the options consumers have to illuminate their homes and offices. Andrew Lankfort, the head of a non-governmental consumer oriented agency in the United Kingdom, affirms that most studies have agreed that the bulbs’ radiation are the origin of blisters and irritation that people have experienced. Whether this radiation causes skin cancer or not, he says, “only time will tell”.
Despite the multiple complaints from consumers, no country has approved legislation that mandates the bulbs have a warning on their labels about the possibility of radiation originated skin conditions as well as headaches and dizziness. In the meantime, countries like Canada and the United Kingdom have made available compact fluorescent bulbs which are covered with a diffuser to limit the exposure to the UV radiation. Dermatologist Cheryl Rosen says that she recommends to her patients to reduce the distance and time of exposure to the bulbs and traditional fluorescent tubes that are used in office buildings. After being questioned by the production of the program 16:9, the three major producers of compact fluorescent bulbs -Phillips, Silvannia and General Electric- only commented that their bulbs meet industry standards and only Phillips admitted to be performing tests on the bulbs in order to determine their safety. A major concern for consumers is that there aren’t guidelines established by the governments when it comes to UV radiation safety, so even if the bulbs were harmful, the companies would not be braking any law.
But the findings reported by the program 16:9 did not end there. How about electromagnetic pollution? Yes, that is what makes the compact fluorescent bulbs even worse that previously thought. Studies by Dr. Magda Habbis a professional in electromagnetic energy, find that these bulbs emit almost ten times more electromagnetic waves than what is considered safe and normal. While and incandescent bulb shows 27 on the radio frequency meter, the compact one reaches 580. Electromagnetic pollution is that which comes from cellular phones, high tension electric wires, wireless Internet signals and other technology shown to cause electric imbalances in the human body. The high levels of electromagnetic energy emitted by the compact bulbs has earned a new name: ‘dirty energy’. One case is that of Larry Newman; Dr. Larry Newman, a neurologist at the Headache Institute of New York, who has suffered the consequences of ‘dirty energy’. Dr. Newman has seen the number of patients complaints over compact fluorescents increase alarmingly. “There is something about those bulbs that trigger my headaches,” Newman says. More and more of his patients are going back to the good old incandescent light bulbs.
Dr. Christine Lay, also a neurologist, has patients who changed all their compact fluorescent bulbs for the incandescent ones and experienced relief almost immediately. She says it will take action from consumers to obligate the makers of the bulbs investigate the consequences of continuous exposure to the bulbs and the possible links to skin conditions and even skin cancer. Kevin Burn, a former victim of the bulbs left his job and began testing his neighbors’ bulbs for electrical pollution. Mr. Burn says before changing the bulbs in his house, the pain was as bad as having arthritis. Some of his tests revealed that some bulbs emit up to 1000 volts and that energy, he says, goes right through people’s bodies. The closer one is to the bulb, the greater the exposure. Since the bulbs contain mercury, a well known neuro-toxine, those who intend to change their compact fluorescent bulbs must be careful not to break them and inhale the vapors contained in the bulb. Once taken from the sockets, they need to be taken to especial recycling facilities where proper disposal is done.
So what is a person to do if the industry bans the incandescent bulbs? There is another option in the market: LED, or Light Emitting Diods. These bulbs record safe energy emission levels and so far no complaints from users. Furthermore, they are even more efficient than the compact fluorescent bulbs.
Just as the compact bulbs, the LED ones are making a slow but sure appearance into the market, and although there are not available everywhere, it is expected consumers will bring them into the main stream just as they did with CFL’s.