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Are CFLs Safe To Use In Your Home?

For years we have all had traditional light bulbs in our homes and workplaces. Now they are becoming a rarity.

The shops are full of these energy-saving compact fluorescent lights (CFL’s). Traditional incandescents are being phased out pretty much globally. In Europe they have been banned.

It’s claimed CFLs consume five times (some “experts” say 10 times) less electricity than a regular incandescent light bulb.

cfls are safe
[1] Image via wikipedia

Quite impressive.

What about the dangers? We don’t hear much about those.

If CFLs Are Safe Why Do So Many Studies Say the Opposite?

The truth is all CFL’s give off electromagnetic pollution. Lots of studies show this:

– The CRIIEM [2] in France found that CFLs generate very strong electromagnetic fields (between 180 V/m and 4 V/m at 20cm)

– The Health Protection Agency (HPA) in the UK found that some compact fluorescent lights emit ultraviolet radiation – which is potentially io

Stiftung Warentest [3], the German consumer organization recommends keeping at least 1.5 meters from CFL’s because of the EMF pollution

– Professor Magda Havas of Trent University has found that CFLs emit a form of electromagnetic pollution in the 100 kHz range called intermediary frequencies [4], known to be particularly harmful

– the Bavarian Environment Agency found that the body currents caused by CFL’s are 30 to 100 times higher than traditional incandescent bulbs.

Almost all CFLs use electronics to rectify the AC from the mains to convert it to DC and then chop it electronically into a series of sharp rectangular alternating pulses. By repeatedly turning themselves on and off this saves energy but also creates dirty electricity.

The adverse health effects from dirty electricity [5] range from diabetes to MS to cancer.

CFLs Contain Mercury

The other big health concern with CFLs is that they contain mercury. This is a huge health risk given that mercury is one of the most potent neurotoxins on the planet. A study conducted by The State of Maine [6] has shown that over 50,000 Nano grams/m3 of vaporized mercury is released from the breakage of a single compact fluorescent lamp.

If you do break a CFL in your home the most important thing to do is leave your home for at least 30 minutes, taking your children and pets with you on the way out, to avoid breathing the toxic vapors. The Environmental Protection Agency [7] offers detailed instructions on how to deal with a broken CFL.

The other point for concern is that because of their mercury content disposing of CFLs in an environmentally friendly way is very problematic

The Safe Alternative To CFLs

So what’s the solution? From a health aspect the best bulbs by far are traditional incandescent bulbs. The human body thrives on exposure to a light spectrum ranging from ultra-violet to infra-red. Traditional incandescents are to be preferred because like daylight they cover a good part of this spectrum. But they are not very energy efficient.

Isn’t the solution just to be more careful as to how you use your incandescent lighting, only using lights in rooms where you are present, and preferring low wattage bulbs?

Unfortunately the decision seems to be out of our hands, in many countries incandescents are no longer available.

There is another alternative, LED’s (light emitting diodes).

LEDs are based on a technology which is far superior to CFL’s. There are two advantages with LED bulbs:

– they are clean, thats to say they emit virtually no dirty electricity

– they are mercury-free and lead-free and can be considered safe

The only snag is the price. But surely this higher price can be easily justified? And using CFLs in places like hallways and for external lighting would not seem to be a problem.

Some LED bulbs give off far higher EMFs than others, and are unsuitable for people who are electrically sensitive.

Some CFLs Are Safer Than Others

We are being told we should move over to CFLs for “environmental reasons”, but if you are really concerned about the planet the best energy saving plan is to reduce your energy needs altogether….less electrical gadgets and appliances is the way to go.

If you can only buy CFLs you should also know that some forms are safer than others. The Health Protection

[8] “Safer” double envelope CFL

Agency recommends that open (curly wurly type -top picture in this article) CFLs should not be used where people are closer than 1 ft to the bare light bulb for more than 1 hour a day. The HPA advises that in such cases open CFLs should be replaced by encapsulated CFLs with a double envelope, which enables UV radiation to be absorbed by the outer glass container.

If you are concerned about EMFs, CFLs should be avoided, stay with incandescents. At the time of writing you can still purchase incandescents from here [9].

This post was last updated August 2017.