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The Truth About Compact Fluorescent "Eco" Lights

Updated on July 19, 2018
Faceless39 profile image

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?

See results

© 2011 Kate P


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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Alright, so I read all the articles referenced. Someone has an agenda, though I have no idea what that might be.


      "The latest report follows claims by Abraham Haim, a professor of biology at Haifa University in Israel, that the bulbs could result in higher breast cancer rates if used late at night.

      He said that the bluer light that CFLs emitted closely mimicked daylight, disrupting the body's production of the hormone melatonin more than older-style filament bulbs, which cast a yellower light."

      This is clearly false reporting.

      "He emphasised that the study did not prove that using eco-friendly light bulbs late at night or overnight resulted in higher breast cancer rates than using filament bulbs, and that it remained an unproven theory.

      British cancer charities echoed that point.

      Jessica Harris, senior health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "As this study didn’t investigate low energy ‘eco’ light bulbs and there isn’t any other evidence that they have an effect on breast cancer risk we can’t draw any conclusions about the risk of breast cancer from low energy light bulbs."

      Derp. Not only is the first article completely wrong, but it misquotes another article written by the same "news" outlet, where CFL bulbs WERE NOT EVEN TESTED.

      Now, the mercury is definitely something to worry about, but I hope you've researched it a bit more than one article from a news agency which can't even quote itself correctly.

      "Despite the small amount of mercury that may be released into the atmosphere if a CFL breaks or is disposed of improperly, the use of CFLs actually helps reduce total mercury emissions in the U.S., according to the EPA, the Union of Concerned Scientists and other sources."

      -A broken CFL produces about .4 MG of mercury. Energy-wise, it uses 1MG, for a total of 1.4MG.

      -An incandescent bulb releases 4.4MG of mercury through the use of fossil fuels.


      "“It’s important to understand that the mercury emissions from coal aren’t just about the environment, they’re about us,” Rogers said. “Where does that mercury end up? It ends up in our lakes and streams and in the fish we eat.”"

      If you don't want to read the article on mercury, here's a summary:

      - It's really no big deal if a bulb breaks. Just be careful when cleaning up. It's less than 1 percent of the mercury contained in a mercury thermometer.

      -Some bulbs have as little as 1.4MG of mercury. (Article referenced on this hub)

      "Russia And China Prepare For The Day When They Will Nuke The United States

      While Barack Obama is busy gutting the U.S. nuclear arsenal, Russia and China are rapidly preparing for the day when they will nuke the United States."

      Please tell me... none of you really follow this tabloid garbage, right?

      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."

      So that's the headline. I hit CTRL+F, and that quote was non-existent in the article. What it said, in fact, was:

      ‘We are worried as most people do not know these bulbs are not to be put in dustbins. The Government is not doing enough to make people aware of the risks.’

      That is the ONLY quote in that article, and it doesn't say anything at all about anyone refusing to pick up CFL bulbs. The article makes that claim in the opening paragraph, but doesn't give a single example of when this happened. If there were councils (plural), there surely could have been one example. In fact, if you read the comments, some "concerned" readers claim to have contacted their local facilities, who had no idea what to do with CFL bulbs, or that they should be outraged.

      The final link is broken, so I found a bit of info on the UV radiation:

      The second link is especially informative on all points in this article. It says that UV radiation is a legitimate concern. It also says this problem is eliminated by putting the bulb in a fixture or behind a lamp shade. I don't know a single person that doesn't use a lamp shade or glass fixture.

      The only loose end is the release of toxic chemicals when a bulb is turned on. I can find only one study on that topic, which is referenced in this article. The problem is that study was released in 2011, and there haven't been any studies like it since. That's a bit of an issue... if this were a concern, wouldn't there be more info on the topic? From what I can gather, the study concluded that you shouldn't keep a CFL bulb close to your head...

      Sorry for the long comment, but this page is a top search result, and it seems like a bunch fear mongering.

    • Faceless39 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kate P 

      7 years ago from The North Woods, USA

      Minnetonka Twin, Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read and comment. It is pretty maddening sometimes when corporate profits trump ethics, but luckily we live in the "Age of Information," so people can investigate things for themselves!

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 

      8 years ago from Minnesota

      I really appreciate your great article which has been well researched. I just came from another hub that spoke of the dangers of these bulbs. It really amazes me-well actually-ticks me off, that people are not warned about this. We all want to be healthy and keep our environment healthy. I don't care at all about a bulb lasting longer, if it's dangerous.

    • Faceless39 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kate P 

      8 years ago from The North Woods, USA

      Dear "Ditz4Life," please consume CFL lights to your heart's content. Thank you.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Get over it I am a chem student and us naphthalene and phenol all the time I'm fine and how often do you break light bulbs. And whose lights do not have lamp shades. Stop trying to find things to complain about this is what we have at affordable prices now if you don't like it create the next light bulb geez...

    • Faceless39 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kate P 

      9 years ago from The North Woods, USA

      Thanks for the comments! Yeah, it's amazing what gets sold to us, and in this case forced on us, by the powers-that-be. We all need to look out for one another!

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 

      9 years ago from California

      Great hub! I was at a store one day where they were giving them away. I asked if it was because of the HazMat danger? The guy said, "You Got It" That was a couple of years ago- Can't believe that this stuff gets passed off on us, by people who aren't even elected.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Wow - I had no idea and thank you greatly for letting me know this as well as all the others who will come across this well written and informative hub.

    • Faceless39 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kate P 

      9 years ago from The North Woods, USA

      These CFL lights make you sick, give you diseases. The government owns and is owned by the pharmaceuticals industry. Draw your own conclusions.

    • sir_tallest profile image


      9 years ago

      men thanks a lot for this hub.....i have these bulbs almost everywhere in my home...will get up and remove them after posting this.....if these things are this dangerous,y don't the government place a ban on them

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      So appreciate that you posted this because its important that people understand the truth. I would like to link this to my green theme hubs, if you have no objection. Thanks!

    • breakfastpop profile image


      9 years ago

      You are right on the mark. I hate these new bulbs and yes they are dangerous. The problem is that I can't find the old bulbs that actually lit up my house and weren't dangerous.

    • Lauryallan profile image


      9 years ago

      It's amazing what you read about that isn't found anywhere on the labeling!!

    • krosch profile image


      9 years ago

      Getting information out there so people can read about it and cross reference things is important. Thanks for posting this so people can look into it.


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