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  • by Eve Lees

Say no to CFL bulbs

Originally published in Personal Health Newsletter, July 2011 and The White Rock Sun, May 2011

Curly, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL’s) are marketed as being long-lasting, cost effective and environmentally friendly. Some users find an inconsistency among manufacturers in how long the bulbs actually last (not very long, for some brands). But a bigger concern is; are they really friendly to the environment and our health?

All CFL’s contain mercury and must be disposed of at designated recycling centres. In a society where people don’t pick up after their dogs, do we really think everyone will dispose of CFL’s properly? And what about remote communities where there are no CFL recycling drop-offs? (Some of these communities don’t even have recycling programs for their glass and plastics.) Mercury-poisoned soil is a possibility if these bulbs pollute our landfill sites. And soon, CFL’s may be the predominant light bulb available in British Columbia.

In addition, there’s much more than just an environmental concern. The health impact of CFL’s on the human body is also questioned.

Thanks to technology, we’re surrounded with various items that send off large amounts of radiation and energy. Humans are also masses of energy – and health experts question the effects these two energy sources create when they’re combined.

Cell phones, computers, microwave towers, televisions, etc., are everywhere. The human body acts as an antenna for the electromagnetic waves produced by them. Some individuals are particularly sensitive. In addition, now we’ll all be exposed to the high frequencies of energy from flourescent lighting sources, when regular incandescent bulbs are no longer available in Canada. They drain too much energy, says the government. Which means CFL’s may be widely used in malls, stores, public buildings and private homes. That’s not good news to those who are sensitive to high energy sources.

It’s called electromagnetic hypersensitivity – or getting sick from the electronic devices we use and the ‘energy’ they emit. Scientists are still debating if people can suffer from electromagnetic hypersensitivity. They say there is no proof. But many people feel their health problems are directly linked to these energy sources.

In 2007, the World Health Organization recognized the danger of these frequencies. They claim high levels of exposure to electric and magnetic fields in frequencies of up to 100 kilohertz can affect the nervous system, resulting in acute health effects. On Global TV's program 16:9, a microsurge metre, which measures electric energy, read CFL’s as far above these readings. Incandescent bulbs measured well below 50, which is a recommended safe level on most micorsurge meters.

In the past, headaches were often attributed to fluorescent lighting. It was thought the fast flickering of the bulbs stimulated a headache. However, health officials now believe it’s also the high levels of energy emitted by the fluorescent bulbs. But headaches aren’t the only health complaint thought to be linked to fluorescent lighting. Other health complaints include inability to concentrate, dizziness, fatigue, aching joints, skin rashes, and blistering.

The report on Global TV’s program 16:9 questioned if the ultraviolet radiation emitted from these bulbs can damage our skin. Officials at Health Canada told 16:9, “There may be skin sensitivity issues, especially in people with certain skin diseases,” but at the time of their originally-aired report, Health Canada wouldn’t provide the 16:9 reporters with their findings (watch a more recent 16:9 report for update) .

In Britain, government health researchers and advocacy groups are being cautious. They feel there should be proper standards and warnings with this type of lighting. In London England, the government has put warnings on CFL “curly bulbs” after they found one in five brands of CFL bulbs emit unusual levels of UV light.

With all this speculation and general unease about CFL’s, it’s disconcerting to know our Canadian Government will soon veto the old light bulb and endorse CFL’s. Shouldn’t we look into other less “energy draining” light sources, before we elect to use a questionable source? A source that will drain tons of energy anyway, just in trying to educate the public on how to dispose of them!

Until more is known, British researchers advise avoiding close contact to CFL’s for more than one hour. This especially applies to children. Try to use fewer of these bulbs in your home. If you suffer from headaches or other health complaints and there is no known reason – try removing the CFL or other fluorescent sources in your home. See if your health improves.

Educate yourself about cleaning up the mercury, should you break a CFL bulb. And do not throw used bulbs in your trash: Find where to recycle them. (Most Home Depot and Rona stores across North America will accept your used CFL bulbs. Check major recycling centres in your city as well.)

For a healthier option, purchase CFL’s which have the curly part in a protective UV-filtering cover. These are available in Canada. Or use LED or Halogen lighting.

Health Canada claims CFL’s are safe. But history shows being categorized as ‘safe’ is not necessarily permanent, as we constantly learn more about the real dangers we create; things that at one time were thought to be ‘safe.’

Forty-eight years ago the town of Libby, Montana thought the asbestos dust from their vermicular mine was ‘safe.’ Now many residents of that town are affected by asbestos poisoning. Many have died. Remember Thalidomide in the 1960’s? Pregnant women were assured this drug (to prevent morning sickness) was ‘safe,’ but it caused devastating birth defects in their children. In the 1980’s Accutane was deemed ‘safe’ to treat teenage acne. Today, it’s been found several diseases and disorders, including inflammatory bowel disease, are strongly linked to Accutane use. And we are on the verge of discovering whether or not there is a possibility our ‘wireless’ technology is linked to certain cancers – especially among children.

Will CFL’s come back to haunt us too?

For Health Canada’s stand on CFL’s, visit:

Eve Lees is a Freelance Health Writer/Speaker and a Nutrition Coach.

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