Are LED Lights Hazardous To Your Health?

Reds are the worst. They have eight times the amount of lead allowed under California law. But all of the light-emitting diodes (LEDs) tested by UC Irvine scientists were brimming with toxins – lead, arsenic and many other potentially hazardous substances – linked to cancer and other horrible diseases and maladies.

The scientists tested – crunched, leached and measured – Christmas strands, traffic lights and car headlights and brake lights. They reported their findings about the Christmas lights in the January 2011 issue of Environmental Science & Technology and plan to publish a more comprehensive paper at a later date.

LED Christmas lights, potential hazard

image via

Oladele Ogunseitan, chair of the university’s Department of Population Health & Disease Prevention, noted that breathing fumes from a single bulb won’t give a person cancer. But any exposure increases the odds of developing disease, and most consumers are utterly unaware of any risks from LEDs, he said. He recommended people use a special broom and wear gloves and a mask when cleaning up a broken bulb.

While there are rules about disposal of compact fluorescent bulbs, LEDs aren’t classified as toxic and can go into regular landfills. What angers Ogunseitan is that LEDs weren’t tested before they were introduced and promoted as an alternative to inefficient incandescent bulbs – and, he said, manufacturers could easily make safer versions.

“Every day we don’t have a law that says you cannot replace an unsafe product with another unsafe product, we’re putting people’s lives at risk,” he said. “And it’s a preventable risk.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.


  • Reply February 27, 2011

    Wes Boone

    A major problem with regulations is that no matter what well intending people decide, there are lobbyists who represent big business who will attack the law from every angle until they find a way to modify it to the point where it isn’t enforceable or is ineffective. I am an electrical contractor and have seen this process in action. A perfect example is happening right now with GFCI, Arc-fault Circuit Breakers, and tamper-proof outlets. Instead of having manufacturers stop making them, then setting a date later when stores must stop selling, and even farther out when contractors must stop installing them, so those in the pipeline can be sold through the system. They place all the weight on the little guy at the bottom, the private contractor, to implement the change. This means that I have to tell my customers that I can’t install the cheaper equipment. They can buy them at the store and put them in themselves, or have an unlicensed player put them in illegally saving lots of money.

    I agree with using the safer equipment and will not install anything that doesn’t adhere to the code, but this increases the cost to wire a home about $1000.00. This is fine, except it appears to the unaware customer that those of us following the rules are far more expensive. It would be far better if the rules were enforced from the top down instead of from the bottom up.

  • Reply February 28, 2011


    Don’t eat them!

  • Reply February 28, 2011


    “breathing fumes from a single bulb” WTF? When was the last time you ever had an open LED? NOBODY except a testing lab would crunch these up. These things are well sealed in practically indestructible materials (unlike CFL bulbs). Combine this with and expected life of 25 years (they basically never fail).

    So, for the morons who didn’t understand this:
    1. They don’t break and release anything.
    2. They last practically forever.

    End of story.

  • Reply March 6, 2011

    Jay B.

    Honestly, I haven´t seen any broken LED diode before. If anyone wants to save on electricity bills he will buy those economical ones, no matter what the others would say. If electrical contractor cannot install them because of the ban, I believe that many people can do it by themselves.

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