By: Duncan Guignet
With the government moving to ban incandescent light bulbs in favor energy-saving compact fluorescent lights, or CFLs, it’s important to remember what this means for your health. A German Study that found that compact fluorescent lights emit cancer-causing chemicals such as phenol, naphthalene, and styrene when switched on. Inspired by these findings, researchers at Stony Brook University in New York have released a study on the effects that UV radiation from CFL bulbs can have on human skin cells.
Researchers summarized their findings, “… [we] measured the amount of UV emissions and the integrity of each bulb’s phosphor coatings. Results revealed significant levels of UVC and UVA, which appeared to originate from cracks in the phosphor coatings, present in all CFL bulbs studied”
Abundant research has shown that UVA radiation can penetrate to the deepest levels of skin tissue. It is known to contribute greatly to skin wrinkling, and according to a US-Australian study, UVA radiation causes the greatest amount of damage to skin cells where most skin cancers start. These cells are called keratinocytes, and they are the same cells the researchers at Stony Brook exposed to radiation from CFL bulbs.
So who is responsible for the radiation given off by these energy efficient bulbs? Well, in 2006 and 2007 the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) measured base levels of radiation given off by CFLs. ACGIH is a completely NON-governmental member-based organization that is comprised of leading “occupational hygiene professionals.”
These levels were then reviewed by the IESNA, another member based organization comprised of lighting industry manufacturers and employers. Their president Chip Israel is the owner of Lighting Design Alliance, one of the worlds leading lighting design firms with offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, Fort Collins, and Dubai.
The IESNA then created the currently used RP 27, which sets the standards for acceptable levels of radiation emissions from all light sources. If a CFL bulb is found to exceed these levels, the maker of the bulb is required to place a warning on the package. There is no accountability however, as manufacturers are expected to self-police.
This is particularly troubling in light of new laws emerging all over the planet phasing out traditional and even halogen incandescent bulbs in favor of CFLs. The most noteworthy being a ban adopted by the European Union around September of 2012.
Some states are adopting these same types of regulation, albeit more slowly. For example, California no longer allows residents to purchase traditional incandescent bulbs – opting instead for halogen incandescent bulbs that use about 25% less energy – but encourages people to use CFLs instead regardless.
To protect your skin from being harmed by these bulbs, researchers recommend that you stay at least two feet away from them at all times, as radiation levels drop with distance. Additionally, the more filters between a person and the bulb – such as a glass cover or shade – the less radiation will reach your skin.