Energy-Saving Lightbulbs a Health Danger

Wednesday, 15 Oct 2008 09:53 AM

By Sylvia Booth Hubbard

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Some energy-saving lightbulbs emit enough harmful ultraviolet radiation to cause sunburn if placed too close to the body. These fluorescent lightbulbs, which are coil-shaped and unencapsulated, are promoted as energy-savers since they use about two-thirds less energy and last ten times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs.

But Britain’s Health Protection Agency (HPA) issued a warning to people who use the bulbs close to their bodies, such as in reading lamps or in their occupations, such as jewelry makers, and those who have medical conditions that make them sensitive to UV light. If skin is in very close proximity to the bulbs, it gets the same exposure as if it were exposed to bright sun.

The HPA advises people not to use the bulbs any closer than twelve inches from the body for any longer than one hour a day. Those who use lightbulbs close to the body for longer periods should switch to an encapsulated form which is shaped more like a traditional bulb.

The agency doesn’t say that the lightbulbs could cause skin cancer, but they do believe they could cause sunburn. Still, they advise people not remove most bulbs from their homes. “This is precautionary advice,” said HPA’s Chief Executive Justin McCracken. “We are advising people to avoid using the open lightbulbs for prolonged close work until the problem is sorted out and to use encapsulated bulbs instead. In other situations where people are not likely to be very close to the bulbs for any length of time, all types of compact fluorescent light bulbs are safe to use."

The safety of the new lightbulbs has been questioned before. They contain a small amount of mercury and some scientists fear it could cause brain and kidney damage if the bulb is accidently broken and mercury vapor is inhaled. Even unbroken bulbs could eventually contaminate soil and ground water if improperly disposed.

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