Thursday, February 28, 2013

CFLs—New Health Dangers, Other Problems

In addition to the mercury in compact fluourescent lights (CFLs), another health danger has emerged. “Our study revealed that the response of healthy skin cells to UV emitted from CFL bulbs is consistent with damage from ultraviolet radiation,” said Professor Miriam Rafailovich, Ph.D, a co-author of the heavily-credentialed team of four who published their results in the Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology (Link). “Results revealed significant levels of UVC and UVA, which appeared to originate from cracks in the phosphor coatings, present in all CFL bulbs studied.” (emphasis added.)

Skin cell damage was further enhanced,” said Prof. Rafailovich, “when low doses of TiO2 nanoparticles were introduced to the skin prior to exposure.” TiO2 (titanium dioxide) nanoparticles are found in personal care products normally used for UV protection. Rafailovich noted that incandescent light of the same intensity had no effect on healthy skin cells, with or without TiO2.

The researchers concluded that the CFL bulbs were “safest when placed behind additional glass cover.” Shouldn't the cost of that additional glass cover be included in a price comparison with incandescents?—or do you think consumers should just accept a less safe bulb in the name of the cost saving the CFL advocates keeps touting?

It has long been known that CFLs emit high levels of UV, but the danger to people was not previously known. CFL radiation, however, was known to “damage oil paintings, photographs, acrylic paintings, upholstery fabrics, furniture and flooring finishes. It can not only fade colors in upholstery fabrics but actually weaken the fibers.” See Link. Not surprisingly, the costs of such damage are omitted in stories about all the money you save by switching to CFLs.

That same link also points out that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has recalled CFLs for being a danger to human health for other reasons. To date, that agency has, in four separate orders, recalled 2,301,000 CFL bulbs because of danger of fires, lacerations to people from flying glass from explosions or shattering of CFLs for internal reasons during use, not from external damage. There has not been a single recall of incandescent bulbs. None of the CFL recalls pertained to mercury in the CFLs—though that remains a health and environmental hazard for the future and imposes significant disposal and transportation costs that are not included in cost evaluations of CFLs. Incandescents do not have these special costs because they can be safely tossed in regular trash.

CFL advocates attempt to dismiss the dangers of mercury, but few, if any, of them have read the shocking 160-page report by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, which even the federal EPA regards as the most thorough investigation ever made of the subject. You can read it here or find extracts of its most relevant points here. It is worth noting, too, that on December 2, 2010, Germany's Federal Environment Agency (UBA) reported mercury levels from broken CFLs twenty time higher than regulations allow in the surrounding area for up to five hours after breakage.

In a previous blog posting (Link) I pointed out that in Minnesota, where I live, CFLs are a net energy loser. The value of the heat lost in winter by replacing incandescents with CFLs is far greater than the CFLs' saving on energy. (A homeowner who replaces twenty incandescents with 60w-equivalent CFLs has lost 945 watts of heating, which must be replaced by another source of heat.) The cost of air conditioning in the summer is too meager to offset the seasonal benefit of heat emitted by incandescents, which CFL advocates claim is just “wasted.”

There are other energy costs associated with CFLs that are not included in pronouncements of how they conserve energy resources, help to reduce greenhouse gases and save the planet from overheating. For example, researchers at the Technical University of Denmark found it took 1.8 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity to manufacture a CFL compared to 0.11 kWh for an incandescent bulb. In other words, it took 16 times more energy to produce a CFL.

BC Hydro and Power Authority is a Canadian electric utility that provides 86.3 percent of the province's electric power. An official of the company has stated: “Energy efficient bulbs increase greenhouse gases (GHGs). Because they burn cooler, they cause home heating to rise." Also, "Lighting regulations [banning incandescent lights] will increase GHG emissions in Hydro's service territory by 45,000 tons due to cross effects of a switch to cool-burning bulbs."

Over 90 percent of CFLs are produced in China. Those who claim CFLs reduce the use of fossil fuels never seem to include the fossil fuel needed to transport CFLs 8,000 miles across the ocean to the U.S.
It is worth contrasting how incandescents achieved widespread use compared to CFLs which are displacing them. Incandescents were cheaper than gas lights and did away with the flicker and smell of gas lamps. CFLs are more expensive than incandescents and give off a noxious odor when they burn out. Incandescents are safer for people and the environment. To the other safety concerns about CFLs, we must now add the skin damage caused by ultraviolet radiation, with which we began this posting. All the benefits of incandescent lighting were possible for millions of people because they were free to buy products in the marketplace without government intereference. If CFLs really were superior, people would buy them without the government banning the competition. That's why incandescents became so popular. Government cannot "force" progress; it can only force people to buy inferior products. The nanny state can never determine what is better for people in their daily lives than what they decide for themselves. 

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