We’ve all heard the stats: compared to incandescent bulbs Compact Fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) use about one-quarter of the energy to produce the same amount of light and save about $30 or more in electricity costs over the lifetime of the bulb. These spiral light bulbs have become quite cost competitive with incandescent bulbs over the past few years, and so many people have switched.
CFLs aren’t without their drawbacks, however. As many have noted, they do contain a small amount of mercury, which makes them difficult to recycle and a health concern if they break. Now, a study from Stony Brook University has revealed that trace amounts of mercury might not be the only way CFLs put your health at risk.
The researchers were inspired by a recent European study [PDF] on individuals who claim exposure to CFLs aggravated their diseases, many of which were skin-related. To test whether or not the CFLs were actually capable of making people sick, scientists set up an experiment that exposed healthy human skin tissue (in vitro) light from CFL bulbs purchased in regular stores across New York State.
Results revealed significant levels of UVC and UVA, which appeared to originate from cracks in the phosphor coatings, present in all CFL bulbs studied.
“Our study revealed that the response of healthy skin cells to UV emitted from CFL bulbs is consistent with damage from ultraviolet radiation,” said Miriam Rafailovich, professor of materials science and engineering at Stony Brook University. “Skin cell damage was further enhanced when low dosages of TiO2 nanoparticles (found in personal care products normally used for UV absorption) were introduced to the skin cells prior to exposure.” Rafailovich added that incandescent light of the same intensity had no effect on healthy skin cells, with or without the presence of TiO2.
Researchers said that this information shouldn’t stop people from using CFLs, but that they should be cautious about exposure. “Our research shows that it is best to avoid using them at close distances and that they are safest when placed behind an additional glass cover,” said Rafailovich. The study did not compare CFLs to LEDs, which were recently dubbed the most environmentally-friendly lighting source.