Important Facts on Light Bulbs and Health

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Published: 20th May 2010
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Light bulbs and health have been spoken about together in recent years, due to findings that the new energy saving bulbs in fact contain mercury dust, which can be deadly if improperly handled (as in all fluorescent bulbs), and due to UV radiation concerns. Now, the government has even stepped in, outlawing the use of incandescent light bulbs, and in fact making them illegal by 2012, with their discontinuation complete by the year 2014. Fact: 92-95% of the energy produced by incandescent light bulbs is dissipated as heat, and is not used in producing light.

Health Dangers

Some light bulbs can emit enough UV radiation to damage the skin, according to Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor for the UK's Independent News. According to his article, "open bulbs" are the real culprit, and have clearly visible glass coils with no protective outer glass surface. Research by a UK government watchdog group found that one in five open bulbs, or compact fluorescent light bulbs, gave off the equivalent of the UV light emitted by the sun on a summer day. Findings also showed, however, that one had to be within one foot of the bulb to receive the effects. The closed, or "encapsulated" bulbs, which have a protective outer glass shield, gave off amounts equivalent to the sunlight on a winter's day, meaning their measurable harmful effects were negligible. These light bulbs have been on the market for over twenty years. People with light-sensitive skin need to be careful using these kinds of bulbs, and should use only the encapsulated light bulbs, according to Justin McCracken of the UK's Health Protection Agency.

The health dangers of energy-efficient white light bulbs are well known, though perhaps not well known enough. They contain a small amount of mercury, which acts as a neurotoxin, which can build up in the body, and have frighteningly damaging effects in some cases. In one case recently, a small child was killed when one of the bulbs broke in the home where she was playing, which further raises the red flags for careful handling and disposal of compact fluorescent bulbs, especially where children are involved. Pregnant women are also more at increased risk around the new light bulbs, just as they are with methylmercury, which can be found in shellfish and tuna.

Positive Health Effects

Full spectrum lighting mimics the sun's range of emitted light, producing positive health effects, which the U.S. government is now fully endorsing, by passing a new law which will outlaw the old, energy-sucking incandescent light bulbs, in favor of the healthier, more energy-efficient bulbs. The government is doing it for the energy-saving reasons, but, in effect, has also mandated better health for us all, as the energy-saving bulbs emit full spectrum lighting, which may prove to kill two big, monstrous birds - energy waste and ill health from improper light sources - with one legislative stone.

According to health expert Dr. Joseph Mercola, what this translates into is not only a 70% reduction in your energy bill, but the overwhelmingly positive effects of all those new, full spectrum light bulbs mimicking the sunlight, which help:

- Lower your blood pressure
- Babies sleep better at night
- Improve your immune system
- Stimulate your metabolism
- Increase intelligence
- Fight depression and mood disorders
- Increase energy

White, full-spectrum light bulbs have a high color rendering index (CRI), meaning they show colors better. The light from incandescent and most compact bulbs glows predominantly yellow-orange which is more stress-inducing, and therefore more tiring on our eyes (and brains). Unlike ordinary bulbs, full spectrum light provides all the colors of the rainbow that we need for optimum health. The additional blue, green and violet wavelengths are more health-friendly, allowing people to have a more productive, happy life.

Tips and Recommendations

Full spectrum, white lighting is ultimately more beneficial to your children's health and development as well, even though there is a minute risk of mercury contamination (if the bulbs are not handled properly). Placing these lights in children's bedrooms and common areas is in their best health interests, and will ultimately do more good for their overall mood and physical health, the small risk notwithstanding. Full spectrum light also helps stimulate creativity and attention to homework and other projects.

Since these more energy-efficient light bulbs help stimulate productivity anywhere, imagine the possibilities in the workplace and in any room of the house. In the kitchen, white light bulbs will stimulate meal making, family conversation, as well as cleanup efforts. The full colors of the rainbow will also help engender concentration (where many of us suffer from child and adult ADD) on tasks, and stimulate:

- Reading/Studying
- Paying bills
- Doing hobbies
- Applying makeup with color-accuracy
- Plant growth in indoor areas

Place low wattage, white light bulbs in places where you want a calming effect, such as the living room, bedrooms, or office/study. You will recognize an amazing difference in mood and attitude when using compact fluorescent light bulbs in these places.

The Future of Indoor Lighting

Organic, light-emitting diodes, or LED's, present a viable option for white lighting in homes and offices in the future. In development are Quantum Dot LED's, developed by a Vanderbilt University student, involving the coating of a blue LED with quantum dots that glow white in response to the blue light emitted from the LED. This technique results in a warm, yellow-white light similar to that produced by incandescent bulbs. Both of these options eliminate the hazard of mercury, as they are organic, though questions of cost and efficiency still remain.

Nevertheless, LED light bulbs are catching on. And why not? They last an average of 100,000 hours, up to 100 times as long as incandescent bulbs. Over a twenty year period, plan on saving $475 if switching to LED lighting, and $69 if making the switch from CFL (compact fluorescent lights). And, saving money equals better mental and emotional health, right?

Low Energy Bulbs Equal Better Health

We're all going to be benefiting from lower energy bills and better overall health in the coming years, as the switch to low energy, full spectrum lighting continues. Though one can wonder, "Why didn't this happen sooner?", these light bulbs will revolutionize our lives for the better. And although there is some concern over the relatively small amounts of UV radiation given off by CFL's, it is a negligible amount. There are much higher levels being emitted by the sun, and which doses, in moderation, are beneficial. The threat of mercury dust simply means take precautions when changing the bulbs (although they last 13 times as long as incandescent compact bulbs, so this is far less frequent an occurrence).

As long as you are careful when disposing of CFL bulbs, being super-conscious of them around children, and if you are pregnant, mercury poisoning won't have to become a concern. And, as far as UV radiation goes, as long as you don't plan to do a lot of hovering around a CFL bulb (moths beware), you're going to be as safe as being outside all day in winter-level sunlight (in the northern hemisphere). Look forward to much fewer light bulb changes, lower energy bills, and better all-around health.

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