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The Truth About Compact Fluorescent "Eco" Lights

Updated on July 19, 2018
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I'm a dental hygienist, pyrography artist, avid gardener, writer, vegetarian, world traveler, and many other things!

CFL lights contain mercury, can trigger breast cancer and seizures, & emit UV radiation
CFL lights contain mercury, can trigger breast cancer and seizures, & emit UV radiation | Source

What Are CFL Lightbulbs?

"Compact Fluorescent Lights" are twisted tubes of glass (now also found with a plastic covering) formed into a spiral and filled with gases. CFLs use less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs, and have a much longer lifespan. Roughly 2.4 billion CFLs are sold annually.1


  • Reduce A/C load in hot climates
  • Use roughly 70-80% less energy
  • Last 8-15 times longer


  • Contain cancer-causing chemicals (phenol, naphthalene, and styrene)
  • Can make you seriously ill
  • Can trigger breast cancer
  • Can trigger seizures
  • Emit UV radiation
  • Contain mercury

How CFL bulbs create light
How CFL bulbs create light | Source

What's the Big Deal?

Feeling tired, dizzy?  It may be your CFL lights
Feeling tired, dizzy? It may be your CFL lights | Source


"All CFLs contain mercury, a neurotoxin that can cause kidney and brain damage. The amount is tiny—about 5 milligrams, or barely enough to cover the tip of a pen—but that is enough to contaminate up to 6,000 gallons of water beyond safe drinking levels, extrapolated from Stanford University research on mercury. Even the latest lamps promoted as 'low-mercury' can contaminate more than 1,000 gallons of water beyond safe levels."4


In addition, whenever a CFL bulb is switched on, it creates an "electrical smog" that releases the carcinogenic chemicals phenol, naphthalene, and styrene.5 These chemicals are released by the heated bulb; they're in the air you're breathing, on your skin, in your mouth. If you have these bulbs in the kitchen, you're potentially also consuming these chemicals.


"Tube fluorescent bulbs have diffusers that filter the UV radiation. Compact fluorescent light bulbs do not have these diffusers and hence people using CFL are exposed to UV radiation. UV radiation has been linked to skin cancer and various skin disorders. Those who have skin problems may be particularly sensitive to this radiation." -- Dr. Magda Havas, associate professor of environmental and resource studies, Trent University Peterborough; Dr. Magda Havas, associate professor environmental and resource studies, Trent University.



Despite a US government ban on traditional filament bulbs active January 1, 2014, there is no noticeable effort by them to inform us of the hazards of CFL bulbs.5 Judging by all the articles I've read, many government agencies are not informed of what steps to take when, for example, a CFL bulb breaks. It is critical to leave the room for at least 15 minutes before cleaning up, but many people are not yet aware of this.


In England, "councils across the UK are refusing to pick up low-energy lightbulbs from homes as they contain toxic mercury, which gives off poisonous vapours."6

Do you agree with the US government ban on incandescent lightbulbs?

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What Do Scientists Say?

They should not be used in unventilated areas and definitely not in the proximity of the head.

— Andreas Kirchner, Federation of German Engineers
UV radiation rash caused by CFL exposure
UV radiation rash caused by CFL exposure | Source

The bulbs could result in higher breast cancer rates if used late at night.

— Abraham Haim, Professor of Biology at Haifa University in Israel

This is an enormous amount of mercury that's going to enter the waste stream at present with no preparation for it.

— Ellen Silbergeld, Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Johns Hopkins University

Inform Yourself

UV radiation affects cell differentiation
UV radiation affects cell differentiation | Source

It's up to each of us to stay on top of what's going on in the world. Though CFL lights are being touted as eco-friendly, they are polluting the land with mercury and other toxic, carcinogenic chemicals. They're also polluting our houses and our bodies with these chemicals. Can you imagine what might happen to a fetus when exposed to these lights? It may not be fun to think about, but inform yourself. Inform others.

Symptoms of CFL radiation:

  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Tinnitus
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Confused thinking
  • Painful, achy muscles
  • Difficulty sleeping; hyperactivity
  • Various skin disorders (rash, prickly skin, burning sensations)



  • More expensive (US$4-$20 per bulb)
  • Energy efficient (about the same as CFLs)
  • Long lifespan (last 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs)


  • Cheap (US$5 per bulb)
  • Not as energy efficient (20 percent better than incandescent bulbs)
  • Shorter lifespan (about the same as incandescents)
  • Get really hot, and can even burst into flames

Broken CFL Bulb Cleanup


EPA suggestions

  • People and pets should immediately leave the room
  • Open a window and/or door and air out the room for at least 15 minutes
  • Turn off the central forced air heating/air-conditioning system
  • Thoroughly collect broken glass and visible powder using wet cloths. Never use vacuum cleaners or brooms
  • Put all debris and cleanup materials in a sealable container and put outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly. Do not leave any bulb fragments or cleanup materials indoors
  • If practical, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the heating/air conditioning system shut off for several hours
  • CFLs and other fluorescent light bulbs contain a small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing. When a fluorescent bulb breaks in your home, some of this mercury is released as mercury vapor. To minimize exposure to mercury vapor, EPA recommends that residents follow the cleanup and disposal steps described


Were you aware of the negative aspects of CFL bulbs?

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© 2011 Kate P


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