Don’t Look Into The Light…Bulb

Steven P. Timmons

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By Steven Timmons

Just when I thought I had my pesky light bulb problem solved, I hear someone on the radio mentioning that CFL light bulbs may be dangerous. Thanks a lot wise guy! Here I am, sitting in my chair, with all of my old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs already replaced with Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs),  you know, those cute little curly things, happily reading an old detective novel under my favorite lamp, my head maybe 20 inches away, and then… I am told that my head is in danger! Please, say it isn’t so!

Unfortunately it appears that it is so, and it even makes sense. First of all, CFL light bulbs excite mercury and argon vapor, which then emits ultraviolet light. This UV light then hits a phosphor coating on the inside of the light bulb, and the UV light is converted to the white light we see. Now, before we get to the dangerous part, let’s go over some pretty nice stats. The great thing about CFL light bulbs is that they only use about one-third to one-fifth of the energy of standard light bulbs, and they last about 10 times longer.  It is not surprising that most of us have switched over – even those of us who read old detective novels.

If you haven’t willingly changed yet, our government has already mandated some changes in light bulb manufacturing.  As it stands right now, we will still be allowed to purchase incandescent bulbs, but only if they meet certain stringent energy requirements; and stringent means higher-priced.

But there are still questions to be answered. As Shakespeare’s Romeo said, “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?” Well, Romeo had a good question. There may be more to that light than meets the eye.

The first cry from scientists that raised real concerns about the new CFL bulbs came from Peter Braun at the Alab Laboratory in Germany. He claimed that CFL bulbs emitted poisonous gasses, including phenol, naphthalene and styrene. If the bulbs were broken, then mercury would also be released. In the meantime, the issue had become a political football. There was a battle pitting the “green” community, who saw CFLs as energy saving, against the “Tea Party- freedom” community, who resisted the new regulations. The concerns of scientists faded into the background, and the regulations were passed. Surprise, surprise.

Fast forward to now.   In December of 2012, a study was published by scientists from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, which tested for UV emission from CFL light bulbs and the effects of the light on human skin cells. They found that in all of the different brands of CFL light bulbs tested, UV light was leaking out, passing through cracks in the phosphor coating.  That’s right! Dangerous UV light was found to be leaking out of the cracks at a level strong enough to damage healthy human skin cells, at least if you were close to the bulb. There were no dangerous effects found when standard incandescent bulbs were tested.

So there you have it, and so do I.  Sorry, cute little curly bulbs, you are going on the shelf for now. I will just change my light bulbs more often, pay a few pennies more, and stick with the ancient ways. Sometimes the ancient path is the good path… On the other hand, they tell me that white LED lights don’t have a rap sheet as yet. Go figure. I’ll have to think about LEDs some other day.  Right now, it’s time to turn off the radio and get back to the detective novel. Ah… now that’s better!


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