A View Against Fluorescent Light Bulbs

Velvet Underground drummer Maureen “Moe” Tucker:
“The government deciding what kind of lightbulbs we can use (all you “think green” people, three objections to this b.s.: 1) Those bulbs give off the light of a candle; 2) They’re very expensive; 3) They have mercury in them – how the hell are we supposed to dispose of them?).”







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LEDs with Problems Too!

Update: A further extensive post on LED issues just gone up August 18 on the Greenwashing Lamps blog,
Lighting industry on LED issues basically comparing the 2009 promises with the 2012 delivery…


The always readable and fact filled Greenwashing Lamps blog,
had a good post the other day about LED Tubes and Bulbs.

Looking at the LED Bulb section of the post…
with testing and reports from Sweden and the EU, but likely applicable elsewhere too,
at least in the general observations.
Some of it has been auto-translated from Swedish, but thankfully with adjustments by the author!
My emphases, some editing:

Banned LED bulbs

Report from Dec 14, 2011

With the new energy conservation requirements, incandescent bulbs be phased out, increasing interest in alternative lighting.
The lamps which the National Electrical Safety Board has looked at are (therefore) the incandescent bulb replacement LED bulbs.
They are based on modern LED technology and all the lamps tested contains a small power pack, situated in the lamp socket.

The Safety Board has recently given a variety of (these) LED lamps sales ban.
The most common reason is electrical grid disturbances, but they also interfere with radio frequencies.

List of products which have so far received sales ban: Lamp 1, Lamp 2, Lamp 3, Lamp 4, Lamp 5, Lamp 6, Lamp 7. [3 more but links required login]

Result of market supervision

More than half of the LED lights purchased through the market and tested have received sales bans. This is a remarkably high figure, which may be because most of the lights checked had built-in dimming, i.e. that they are dimmable. Dimmable LED lamps contain control electronics that often require specific measures to achieve acceptable properties to make electrical devices work together, known as electromagnetic compatibility (EMC). This is sometimes overlooked by the lamp manufacturers. It is important to you as a manufacturer or importer to ensure that the LEDs have been tested properly with EMC.

How does the disturbance manifest?

LEDs produce disturbances in the distribution system which, among other things, can cause radio interference. Radio interference caused by the conducted noise radiating from the connected wires. This is because the lines, e.g. to the luminaire, act as transmitting antennas for conducted interference. The disturbance may affect other electrical products in the local area, even those that are not connected to an outlet. It can also affect communication such as wireless broadband and telephony.

What rules apply for manufacturers?

The Electrical Safety Authority on electromagnetic compatibility (ELSÄK-FS 2007:1) has to be followed. Regulations based on the EMC Directive (2004/108/EC EMCD).

Cooperation within the EU about LED lights

There is currently a campaign in the EU to have LED lighting examined. The aim is to investigate if the new LED lights on the market comply with applicable EMC requirements.


A few months later, EU authorities found similar problems:
Disruptive LEDs are examined in the EU

Feb 10, 2012

The National Electrical Safety Board has in 2011 looked into LED lights, half of which got sales bans. The reason for the bans is that the lights did not meet the applicable requirements for electromagnetic compatibility (EMC).

Market of LED lamps 2011The lights disrupted other electrical products. Only one in five LED lamps passed the test without comment.

European survey
In parallel with the National Electrical Safety Board’s market surveillance of LED lights, the EU carried out an investigation. The EU surveillance is not strictly comparable to the Safety Boards’s market surveillance, but shows similar shortcomings. The results also show that manufacturers who use LED technology are very poor at complying with the Directive:
The reason for this is that LED technology is so new and there have appeared many new manufacturers in the market that are simply not aware of the directive, said Ulf Johansson at the Safety Board.

Clearer rules
One of several measures aimed at improving the situation is that the European Commission gives the European Committee for Standardisation mandate to supplement and clarify standards in the field. The aim is to help traders in the market to more easily use the current rules.

Continued control
The National Electrical Safety Board will, in line with other market surveillance authorities in the EU, check the LEDs in 2012 as well. It also plans to follow up on last year’s surveillance with a campaign aimed at improving information about the LED lights.



Förbjudna LED-lampor [Prohibited LED-lamps]

Störande lampor granskas i EU [Lights causing disturbance analyzed by the EU]

Final Report on the 4th Cross-Border EMC Market Surveillance Campaign – 2011 LED Lighting Products


Overall, it should also be noted that lab tested specifications, as agreed among the manufacturers, rarely conform with real life usage.
[A problem of course familiar to fluorescent bulb users too – as with the long unnatural 3 hour on-off cycle lifespan testing, given that many bulbs are switched on and off for short periods… which happens to markedly reduce CFL life, and again, the loss of brightness that also effectively reduces their life]
The problems with LED, and the standards applying to them is also covered on http://ceolas.net/#li15ledax
and onwards, with some safety issues covered on http://ceolas.net/#li20ledax.


From an American angle,
an interesting court case against false LED advertising:

From the Federal Trade Commission press release, 2010:

FTC Shines a Light on Company’s Deceptive Claims for its LED Bulbs

Agency Charges Firm With Misrepresenting the Light Output and Life
Expectancy of its Bulbs:
The Federal Trade Commission has sued a California-based light bulb manufacturer and its principals to stop them from misleading consumers by exaggerating the light output and life expectancy of its Light
Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs.

As part of the FTC’s continuing work to stop deceptive advertising,the agency filed a complaint charging that since 2008, Lights of America, Inc. has overstated the light output and life expectancy of its LED bulbs on packages and in brochures. The agency also charges that Lights of America misled consumers about how the brightness of its LED bulbs compares to traditional incandescent lights.

A 2011 update, pdf document:

“Accordingly, the Court should deny the Vakils’ Motion to Dismiss and enter its Tentative Decision as its ruling on this matter….”


Meanwhile, in 2012, with the FTC supervised new lighting label regulations, GE has found its own color coding way to give the information:

GE is currently rolling out a series of five new boxes that’ll hit store shelves by summer and, it hopes, change the way Americans do their bulb shopping.
The FTC-mandated label will appear (where else?) on the back of the boxes…

The color coding is meant to represent “strong, vibrant”, “cozy relaxing” lighting etc

For example, the lowest-power bulb (210 lumens) comes in a lavender box labeled “subtle, reassuring light,” while the higher-power 1,170-lumen bulb’s box is bright green termed as “fresh, energizing light.”

Never mind the uneven light spectrum of this kind of lighting, as indeed with CFLs 😉
Light spectrum compared for different lamp types in an earlier blog post here dealing with UV light radiation, some more diagrams in the equivalent post on the Freedom Light Bulb blog.

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A Comprehensive Criticism of Fluorescent Light Bulbs

[An expanded version of this via sylbtw.org, as said on the right here: the hosted WordPress versions allow a bit more flexibility, we are therefore experimenting around that!]


Paul Wheaton is an interesting critic of the pushing of CFLs as replacement light bulbs, and indeed of the supposed necessity of restricting the use of simple incandescent light bulbs:
He is a committed environmentalist, as seen from his permaculture farming forums, and yet has an engineering background that allows him and his team to make credible real-life observations about lighting and lighting use.

A point about light bulb manufacturers and their products is that their specifications may be correct under the lab test conditions, but do not correspond to real life use – like with lifespan or brightness.

He has a good and extensive critical account of Fluorescent light bulbs here: http://www.richsoil.com/CFL-fluorescent-light-bulbs.jsp, as also displayed further down on this post.

A recent video complements this well, containing further testing…


Not forgetting his earlier Mr Stinkypants video…
A criticism of light bulb manufacturers and politicians, and how they don’t act in the consumers best interest, humorously illustrating the Phoebus cartel limiting the lifespans of regular incandescent bulbs, and then how CFLs get pushed by subsidies before the ultimate resort to simply ban the incandescent alternatives…



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New Study on CFL UV Radiation

As has widely been reported, a recent study highlights the problem of UV radiation from compact fluorescent bulbs, albeit only at close quarters.
It is therefore recommended that the squiggly tubes are enclosed in capsules for such use, as with the pear shaped CFLs that are available.


From the Daily Mail article 20 July   Edited extracts, highlights

Energy-saving light bulbs can fry your skin, study claims

Energy-saving light bulbs can fry your skin, a new study claims.
Researchers at Stony Brook University in New York State examined the impact of the compact fluorescent bulbs – or CFL bulbs – on human skin cells prompted by a similar study undertaken in Europe.
They discovered that healthy skin exposed to light from the CFLs experienced damage found with ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

‘Consumers should be careful when using compact fluorescent light bulbs… 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’ Stony Brook University Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Miriam Rafailovich said.

The scientists tested a number of CFL bulbs from across New York State to determine their UV emissions and the integrity of each bulb’s phosphor coatings.
Results revealed significant levels of UV, which appeared to originate from cracks in the phosphor coatings that were present in all CFL bulbs studied.

They also tested the impact on collagen-producing skin cells and the epidermal cell that generated keratin from the light.
Comparing skin cells exposed to the CFLs with those exposed to incandescent light bulbs, they discovered that only the CFLs damaged skin, the same trauma as sun burnt skin, they found. Incandescent light of the same intensity had no effect on healthy skin cells at all.


The study itself:

The Effects of UV Emission from Compact Fluorescent Light Exposure on
Human Dermal Fibroblasts and Keratinocytes

Tatsiana Mironava, Michael Hadjiargyrou, Marcia Simon, Miriam H. Rafailovich
Article first published online: 20 jul 2012

Compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs can provide the same amount of lumens as incandescent light bulbs, using one quarter of the energy.
Recently, CFL exposure was found to exacerbate existing skin conditions; however, the effects of CFL exposure on healthy skin tissue have not been thoroughly investigated.

In this study, we studied the effects of exposure to CFL illumination on healthy human skin tissue cells (fibroblasts and keratinocytes).
Cells exposed to CFLs exhibited a decrease in the proliferation rate, a significant increase in the production of reactive oxygen species, and a decrease in their ability to contract collagen.
Measurements of UV emissions from these bulbs found significant levels of UVC and UVA (mercury [Hg]
emission lines), which appeared to originate from cracks in the phosphor coatings, present in all bulbs studied.

The response of the cells to the CFLs was consistent with damage from UV radiation, which was further enhanced when low dosages of TiO2 nanoparticles (NPs), normally used for UV absorption, were added prior to exposure.
No effect on cells, with or without TiO2 NPs, was observed when they were exposed to incandescent light of the same intensity.


Scotland based lighting designer Kevan Shaw of Savethebulb.org has a particular interest on the effects of CFLs on people with light sensitivity disorders, as he points out in the introduction to his post on this research, extracts:

Frying tonight?

As previously blogged I am assisting the Spectrum Alliance with their campaign to retain incandescent lamps for people with specific photosensitive disorders.
In the course of this I have learned a lot about skin problems caused by CFLs. It seems that such problems are not just confined to specifically photosensitive people. The Daily Mail ran an article on 20 July this year following up on recently published research in the USA. It seems that the light from CFLs has a significantly greater damaging effect on skin than incandescent lamps.

As previously experienced, CFLs do emit UV despite the claims of manufacturers.
Double envelope CFLs do reduce UV emissions considerably and should be used in any situation where lamps are at all close to people like task lighting, table lamps and bedside lights, particularly for the very young and very old whose skin tends to be more sensitive.

Kevan Shaw July 20 , 2012



Some comments elsewhere are taking this quite lightly, even welcoming a bit of sunburn and vitamin D formation.
However, an important point not mentioned is that UVC, one of the UV types emitted, is the most damaging UV source and happens to be blocked by the atmosphere ozone layer when coming from the sun.

An interesting runthrough of UV light can be seen on Digplanet.com, here.

The same source on Fluorescent lamp UV radiation

Fluorescent lamps
Fluorescent lamps produce UV radiation by ionising low-pressure mercury vapour. A phosphorescent coating on the inside of the tubes absorbs the UV and converts it to visible light.

The main mercury emission wavelength is in the UVC range. Unshielded exposure of the skin or eyes to mercury arc lamps that do not have a conversion phosphor is quite dangerous.

The light from a mercury lamp is predominantly at discrete wavelengths. Other practical UV sources with more continuous emission spectra include xenon arc lamps (commonly used as sunlight simulators), deuterium arc lamps, mercury-xenon arc lamps, metal-halide arc lamps, and tungsten-halogen incandescent lamps.


Incandescents have a red shift and relatively low UV output

unknown source


CFL lamp spectrum


A comparison between light sources
(a CFL is of course a type of mercury vapor lamp)

The sourced Olympusmicro.com site for the last diagram has a good account of lamp technologies and spectra.


As for the issue at hand here,
there is more coverage of UV radiation and other health concerns, with research references, on http://ceolas.net/#li18rx

Note that the double envelope CFL recommendation dates back several years from other studies…

BBC article 9 October 2008:

UV light fear over ‘green’ bulbs

Being too close to energy-saving light bulbs could cause skin reddening because of ultraviolet light emissions, health experts have warned.
The Health Protection Agency (HPA) cautions against being closer than 30cm (1ft) to some compact fluorescent (cfl) bulbs for long.

As a result of testing which revealed the potentially high levels of UV light, the HPA has issued guidelines against people using unencapsulated light bulbs – where the light coil is visible – closer than 30cms to the body for more than one hour a day.

Professor Harry Moseley, Consultant Clinical Scientist at the University of Dundee, said: “We are concerned about risks to patients who have severe light-sensitive skin disorders.
“The small levels of ultra-violet emitted by some low energy light bulbs could be harmful to these patients. I recommend use of lights with a protective shield to absorb the UV.”
Experts stress that healthy people are at no risk providing the HPAs advice (above) is followed.


Also a similar EU Commission study 2008, albeit a typically poorly written EU report, seemingly drawing on other studies, and full of conclusions without presenting underlying data evidence (surprise, not).

In December 2009 The Canadian Federal Government Health Department finished a review of CFLs, again mainly relating to UV radiation, but other electromagnetic radiation was also studied.
The report mirrored the UK HPA findings:
It is recommended that single envelope CFLs [classic tubular type lights] not be used at distances less than 30 cm to avoid any long-term health effects in the general population


Note a certain irony here…
Double envelope CFLs protecting from UV light also means reducing their ordinary light output still more
There is other irony about CFLs already, eg leave them on, waste energy, switch them on-off, shorten their life…

Basically, bulbs are the wrong format for fluorescent lighting technology, best in long tube form, just like LEDs have natural lighting advantages in sheet form.
The CFL and LED natural advantages are compromised in offering politically pushed incandescent-copying lighting.

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“Don’t Send Your Light Bulbs to Washington”

Hey, squiggly CFLs can be attractive too…or at least less ugly…
But make sure the flower doesn’t get picked!



CFL Flower

by Laura McNutt and Tracey Trumbull.
Source   http://timesfreepress.com/photos/2011/apr/19/43467/

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