Is the level of ultraviolet light emitted by compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) a cause for concern?
While it is true that some CFLs do emit slightly more ultraviolet (UV) light than incandescent light bulbs, these emissions are not significant if the CFLs are installed more than 25 centimetres away from people, such as in ceiling fittings.
The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) conducted a study into a range of CFLs, incandescent light bulbs and halogen lamps – Ultraviolet Radiation Emissions from Compact Fluorescent Lights.
Of the tested lamps, those with the highest UV levels measured at a distance of 10 centimetres over a period of 8 hours was equivalent to spending approximately 6 minutes in the midday summer sunshine in Brisbane and 7 minutes in Melbourne. The study found that UV emissions from all lamps decreased rapidly with distance.
A report by the European Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) on the health effects of artificial lighting also examined UV exposure. The report noted that in general, annual UV exposure from household CFLs would at most equal a day in the Mediterranean sun each year for a Danish person.
If you are concerned about UV exposure you should minimise the time spent closer than 25 centimetres from CFLs or use 'double envelope' or 'covered' CFLs—these types of lamps look similar to 'pearl' incandescents.
The Australian Government will continue to monitor developments in relation to potential health effects from UV emissions from CFLs.
Are CFLs safe to use for people with light sensitive conditions?
Slightly more UV light may be emitted by some CFLs when compared to an equivalent incandescent lamp. It has been suggested that a small number of people with very severe light sensitive conditions may be adversely affected by the very small amount of UV light emitted from a bare CFL.
Read more about lighting alternatives and minimising ultra-violet light exposure from artificial lighting.
It is important to note that CFLs are not being mandated. More efficient forms of incandescent lighting will continue to be available, such as mains voltage halogen (MVH) lamps. MVHs have a very similar appearance to the traditional incandescent light bulb, can be used in all of the same fittings, and are readily available. The halogen gas they contain allows them to operate at a higher temperature, which results in higher efficiency levels. However, MVHs are not as energy efficient as CFL alternatives.
As the phase-out plan is developed, the Australian Government will continue to consider health issues and examine options to address any significant concerns. This may include providing information about possible impacts and available alternatives.
More information on light sensitivity
Read more about minimising ultra-violet light exposure from artificial lighting for information relating to possible health implications associated with using CFLs on light sensitive individuals, including those living with lupus.
Do fluorescent lights provide a light free of visible 'flicker'?
Some concern has been raised regarding the possible health implications associated with fluorescent light 'flicker'.
Modern fluorescent lights are free of visible flicker. CFLs operate at a frequency of over 20,000 on/off cycles per second and modern linear fluorescent tubes flicker at a rate of more than 5000 times per second (because of their electronic controllers). These rates of flickering are not detectable by the human brain (studies suggest that one per cent of people can detect a flicker rate of up to 60 times per second), and are also well above the range of flicker commonly associated with photosensitive epilepsy at 5-30 times per second. Experts in the field of epilepsy research have stated that CFLs are no more likely to be a risk to epileptics than other light bulbs (Professor Graham Harding, Epilepsy Action UK).
A small number of cases of reactions to linear fluorescent tube flicker have been recorded. These cases these were almost certainly triggered by old technology which operated at a much lower frequency on a copper-iron magnetic controller, rather than an electronic controller which all modern fluorescent lamps use.
If a linear fluorescent tube has a noticeable flicker it is likely to be faulty and should be replaced.
If a CFL has a noticeable flicker it could be the result of a poor quality product or may occur in situations where the lamp has been incorrectly fitted, such as in a dimmer switch, touch lamp or another electronic device.
What are the potential health risks associated with other types of artificial lighting?
A report by the European Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) has examined the health effects of artificial lighting, including UV exposure and the impacts of artificial light to the eyes, skin, circadian rhythms, sleep and moods. A summary of the effects are given below. Note that these conclusions relate to a wide range of lighting types available.
The SCENIHR report examined a ‘worst case’ exposure to ceiling mounted linear fluorescent lamps with no filters for 6 hours per day (at school) or 8 hours per day (work). The report found that annual UV exposure would add the equivalent of 3-5 days holiday in the Mediterranean sun to the average annual UV dose for a Danish person.
Fluorescent lamps typically emit less than half of the UV radiation assumed in the worst case scenario due to the use of filters which block some of the UV light.
Some people with light sensitive conditions may be adversely affected not only by UV radiation but also the visible part of the light spectrum such as. the light that can be seen. For those people, it may be necessary to avoid lamps which have a significant blue light component. The advice available on minimising ultra-violet light exposure from artificial lighting is also applicable to these circumstances.
Long-term exposure to artificial light during normal lighting conditions is unlikely to cause damage to the eye. However, improper use or installation of lamps or accidental high-intensity artificial light could result in retinal damage. Manufacturer instructions should always be followed.
The risk of damage to the retina due to blue light radiation can be increased by bright cold white light in close proximity to the eyes (e.g.task lighting) or strong directional lighting (e.g. floodlights, scenic lighting). Exposure to this type of lighting should be minimised where possible.
The SCENIHR report also found that there is some evidence suggesting that exposure to extended light at night may be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer and may also cause sleep, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and mood disorders. It is thought that this is due to a disruption of circadian rhythms. These effects have not been found to correlate with any specific lighting technology, rather just exposure to light itself.
More information on the possible health effects of ‘flicker’
Concerns have been raised that CFLs may have adverse impacts on the health of some people. One such concern is the effects of CFL ‘flicker’ on sufferers of epilepsy, Ménière's disease and migraines.