back to article Radiation warning for low-energy lightbulbs

The Health Protection Agency is warning that low-energy light bulbs could give enough ultraviolet radiation to cause damage to your skin. You'd need to be closer than 30 cm from the bulb for more than an hour a day and it would need to be an open type light bulb - the whirly ones (see pic). Low-energy light bulbs The Agency …


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  1. Eddie Edwards
    Thumb Up


    They give you skin cancer and exhale toxic fumes when broken.

    Is there anything CFLs can't do (apart from light a room nicely and work with dimmers)?

  2. Scott

    too much

    Too mush salt in food, too much UV in light bulbs, next there be telling us to much greed is bad.

  3. Jason Togneri

    "the exposure is equivalent to that experienced by being outside on a sunny summer's day in the UK"

    So, not much to be worried about then?

    Personally, I keep a lizard, so I have these bulbs running for 14 hours a day. Of course, they're behind glass which kills most of it, and UVB doesn't travel that far anyway, and I'm hard-pressed to think of circumstances where you'd be in such close contact with one. Do people actually use these in desk lamps?

  4. Nick

    30 Centimetres?

    What are these strange centimetre things of which you speak? I think you mean just over two Linguini.

    Who uses a lamp that close anyway?

  5. red hal


    Was this research done in collaboration with the energy utilities by any chance? First Mercury and now UV. Anyone would think it was a slow news day.

    Mine's the one with the Sunblock and the LED torch in the pocket.

  6. Anton Ivanov

    That is probably incorrect advice

    Many new enclosed lightbulbs use plastic, not glass outer covering which is transparent in UV. As far as UV halogens also emit it and so does any "energy efficient" light form except the new diode lights. This has been known for a very long time. It is surprising that it is resurfacing again now. Ambulance chasing maybe?

  7. Chris Hamilton
    Thumb Down

    Is it worth the 5p saving in my 'leccy bill?

    Poisonous vapours when broken requiring special disposal techniques, dim useless light when lit, UV exposure from regular usage... forgive me if i just keep on using my 45W conventional lightbulbs until LED's take off. And I have enough of the things in a box in the attic to see me until about 2050.

  8. Andrew Bayliss

    sunny summer's day

    "... for some if you are within two centimetres the exposure is equivalent to that experienced by being outside on a sunny summer's day in the UK"

    Best stop going outside too then.

  9. Michael B.

    Finally some UV exposure

    Yes! After years of working in offices behind glass I can finally get a little bit of UV on my skin just by turning the light on.

  10. dervheid

    Oh lovely...

    yet another "planet saving" device that, once you actually look at the long term impacts, ain't such a 'brilliant' idea after all.


  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't want to be a scaremonger but...

    I hear there's this massive nukuler-powered fireball in the sky, that emits huge quantities of radiation. Studies show it's a major cause of cancer. Exposure to this menace is much more dangerous than CFLs or mobile phones.

  12. Andrew Bush
    Paris Hilton


    If is put one in my desk lamp and have it really low down over the keyboard, will I be able to get a nice tan on my hands while I type?

  13. Mark Broadhurst

    Might buy some

    I could do with a tan and it sounds like its minority harmful, and cheaper than a tanning place.

  14. Warhelmet

    Light Shade Anyone?

    Those bulbs are ugly anyway. Do people have these bulbs bare in their homes? I think not.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    @Do people actually use these in desk lamps?

    Yup, got one in my old anglepoise lamp that I put on my son's desk to use when he's doing homework. So looks like he's at risk .... wait a minute ... need 1hr+ exposure a day .... phew, no problem then as there's *NO* way he possibly ever do as much as 1 hour homework in a single day!

  16. Wize

    Can I sue Brittish Gas?

    After all, I didn't ask for the bulbs they sent me.

  17. Bassey


    Only if you spend a prolonged period within 30cm of one! Shit, you have to be closer than that to get any benefit from the damn things. The backlight on my first Casio watch 30 years ago gave off more light than one of these things!

  18. Anony mouse
    Thumb Up


    Justin McCracken??.......... Noooooooooo... Really??

  19. Anonymous Coward


    Now we know what affects Aaron (FoTW).

    Sitting in a darkend room, only lit by a small CFL next to his keyboard, whilst bent over trying to code that £12b MySQL databse. Maybe he should cover up a little more, sitting in his underpants, clearly is not good enough....

  20. Robin Bradshaw
    Paris Hilton

    Thats why CFL's are rubbish

    The health protection agency seem to have stumbled upon the reason why CFL lights are so crap at lighting up a room, they dump their energy into the room as UV light.

    Perhaps some enterprising boffin could develop some sort of coating for the inside of the tubes that captures the UV radiation and re-radiates it in the visible spectrum (maybe some sort of phosphor based stuff would do it) then the lights might actually light up and work.

    In other shock news a large range of cheap shoddily made chinese tat has been found to not work particularly well when compared to similar items that have had a little more care in their design and manufacture.

  21. Paul Donnelly


    Hey, I'll have you know that just because someone likes to sit around in their underpants, it does not make them want to become FoTW...

    I would have thought that underpant-only male relaxation is almost universally taken up; I know the bloke diagonally downstairs from me does it, I saw him in the garden au-pants the other day!

  22. Stevie


    These curly-wurly bulbs will kill you all with their stealth death rays! Avoid them at all costs!

    This message brought to you by Amalgamated Tungsten Inc. Remember: If it isn't incandescent, it isn't safe.

  23. JEAN

    low-energy bulbs damage TV sets

    My TV was affected by having a low-energy bulb across the room from the TV. The TV would go on and off by itself. My electric company informed me the radiation from the bulbs can affect the remote control gizmo on the TV set. I lost the picture and could get only the voice.

    Be very careful.

  24. Anonymous Coward

    i don't know who makes those

    But my only complaint with cfls has been that most of them don't last very long and end up being just as expensive (if not more so), than regular incandescents. this is not an ad, and I don'r work for them...but my compact philips earth cfls have been very good over the years. many of them are now 10+ years old and I don't mind the light from them at all... I do wish they made something rated like a 150-200 W lamp, but I have never seen one available for when I do what tons of light, but I'm not looking to roast under a 300-500W halogen.

  25. Walter Francis

    Incan? What's that?

    I replaced every bulb in my house, inside and outside, except a handful which are very rarely used, about four years ago. I've replaced two of the small 15w bathroom mirror bulbs in that time, and none of the others, including the ones outside on timers/motion sensors.

    Previously I was replacing bulbs at least once a month in the bathroom and outside bulbs at least once during the winter. Now there's less bugs attracted to the lights, less bulb changing, and less energy use.

    The only complaint I have with them is when the house is cold it takes them about 30s to light up all the way, but this is only an issue in the winter when we keep the house around 20c. When it's around 25-26 during the summer they light right up.

    As for not lighting up a room, well, that's bollocks. Where I used to have 1 100W bulb I now have 2 '45w' bulbs (which are wattage equivalent to around 8w iirc) and they light up the room as well as the incandescent did.

    The power savings is nice, but it's *really* nice not having to seemingly constantly replace bulbs!

    My coat is the one hanging on the chair instead of being worn to take another incan bulb out to the trash.

  26. Chris C

    HOW close?

    "[F]or some if you are within two centimetres the exposure is equivalent to that experienced by being outside on a sunny summer's day in the UK."

    Seriously, why is this even being mentioned? For those who don't understand centimeters, 30cm is 11.8 inches (2.54cm = 1in). How often are people sitting within twelve inches of the light bulb? And that part about being outside on a sunny summer's day in the UK... This deserves a much more emphatic "who cares?!?" Or, in better terms, "so fucking what?!?" Who the hell sits LESS THAN ONE INCH from the bulb?

    The sad/funny thing is I'm sure there are a lot of stupid people (I'm looking at a lot of Americans here) that will freak out at this news and replace all of these with incandescent bulbs again... And then go to the tanning salon.

  27. Anonymous Coward

    ...and they don't last anything like as long as it says on the package

    Apparently they last for 7 years. NOT.

    Some numbers for UV emission would be useful. At the moment all I've got to go on is the idea that its a 7 watt bulb so its probably emitting about4 watts of which less than a tenth of that power will be UV. I'm quaking with fear.....

    Due to the peculiar way that we pay for power (don't ask....) the electricity companies make the same amount of power regardless of how much they actually sell. This leaves them wiggle room to subsidize CFLs. We can get the little ones on offer three for a dollar. They're all over these days -- incandescents are becoming quite the endangered species. CFLs aren't very nice, though, so I'm hoping that the LED emitters are going to come down in price a bit (they're still tens of dollars each) or maybe we can start wallpapering with OLED panels.

  28. charles platt

    ultraviolet damage to the eyes

    While only a very small number of people may have sufficient skin sensitivity to be affected by energy-efficient lightbulbs, prolonged exposure of the eyes to ultraviolet light is bad news for anyone who hopes to retain decent vision in (relatively) old age. According to my opthalmologist, ultraviolet light "causes yellowing of the lens in the eye in the same way that a block of Lucite would turn yellow if you left it out in the sun." This is one reason I wear glasses with real glass in them, since it attenuates ultraviolet.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Toxic potential.

    Saving the copper is a better reason not to just toss CFLs than any worries about mercury. Not that we shouldn't do what we can to minimise it's release too.

    That said, assuming a normal mix of electricity sources that includes coal, more mercury is released powering an equivalent incandescent than from breaking a CFL.

  30. Andus McCoatover

    @HOW close?

    From a quick mental calculation, 11.8 inches corresponds to roughly one nanosecond in the speed of light. Better move smartish!

  31. elderlybloke
    IT Angle

    Dear charles platt

    My Doctor told me a few years ago I had in layman's terms - sunburned eyes.

    35 years wandering around out in the New Zealand sun and fresh air, non IT job. Thought I might require some scraping of the Corneas .

    Now days I spend less time out there, but I wonder if I need sunglasses while sitting under these UV emitting CFLs


  32. Andus McCoatover
    Dead Vulture

    Gordon Bennett

    Or should that be Gordon Brown? Same effect. Utter shite.


    So, the new dimmer-able (thus energy-saving) lamp me and my blonde Finnish bird just bought to properly illuminate our webcam shenanigans is now (almost) worthless. I'd better buy enough bulbs to last for as long as I'm still capable. Maybe one or two'll be enough.

    OK, I get it. Instead of soft, low lighting, it's full chat or nothing.

    Now, brings a bit more to the equation.

    Imagine if the cupid stunts in the EU decide to implement this on cars. Plunged in utter darkness for about a second (= about 100m) while switching from dipped beam to main. Cute.

    Gravestone icon, natch.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Maybe not that harmful to the skin, but

    the lesser amounts of UV at sensible distances may yet accelerate the fading of your soft furnishings, wallpaper, and any photos/artwork you have on display.

    I tried a Philips bulb for an hour or so to confirm that I still didn't like 'em, and was surprised to find that there was proportionally enough UV being emitted to cause office paper in my room to fluoresce and aquire a slighly purply-tinge.

    It is my belief that the same fluorescence can cause various dark-coloured fabrics to appear markedly lighter than they should be, and hence appear "dusty" or "tired".

    Good to note that:

    "HPA scientists observed that a significant proportion of the CFLs tested had a flicker at about 100 Hz. Whilst a 100 Hz flicker will not be perceptible to most people, some will be aware of it if the light bulb is in the periphery of their vision."

    (although the bulbs use a high-frequency inverter, the mains input is not sufficiently smoothed)

    and that:

    "HPA scientists observed that the visible spectrum emissions from the tested CFLs consisted of a series of discreet narrow peaks with low or negligible emission between peaks. Visible light from the Sun is a broad spectrum so this feature of CFLs may compromise colour perception for some people"

    Of course none of this is new news, but it's good to get some official acknowledgement that CFLs are not suitable as blanket replacements for incandescents.

    As to the previous comment about time to warm up... if one was being truly energy-saving, then parts of the house may be allowed to cool to 12C or less overnight in winter. *Then* how long does it take for a CFL to warm up to a decent brightness?

  34. Solomon Grundy

    @Jason Togner

    Your lizard is going to get cancer.

  35. James Gear
    Thumb Down

    Scaring Public can kill our Business

    We are light bulbs supplier on the internet and this kind of public scare stories does nothing but kill trade to our business.

    Since this article has been published, which should be read in full to understand the actual impacts that have been suggested, our business has seen an 64% turndown in our weekly sales of these products. And I mean the entire rane not just open cluster lamps.

    But of course this story like many published to get public attention, leaves the evidence until the end of the story, and Jo Public tends not to read the entire story but just the punch packing head line that scares everyone to death.

    For 20 Years we have been selling these lamps, and I can not recall one example of anyone suggesting "Redness" as the article suggests.

    Another concern that I have is that a large number of people use open cluster lamps for conditions such as Seasonal Affective Disorder, as the use daylight 6500K lamps, which have been proven to have some degree of improvements on suffers of conditions such as "SADS".

    Now I feel that suffers of such conditions will suffer in silence, instead of using one of the Daylight Lamps that could improve there well being.

    So well done to whoever for a headline that will no doubt not be understood by all, but will in my view have an impact on the environment certainly, and people lives generally.

  36. Andus McCoatover

    Dangerous angle

    <<As to the previous comment about time to warm up... if one was being truly energy-saving, then parts of the house may be allowed to cool to 12C or less overnight in winter. *Then* how long does it take for a CFL to warm up to a decent brightness?>>

    Er, parts of our "house" (communal landing/stairway) can get to MINUS 20C in the winter. And, it's dark. 18 hours/day in December. Right, fire alarm goes off. Turn on stairwell light, and may as well hit the fire alarm's snooze button.

  37. Les Ashton

    The eyes have it (too)?

    I have always been mildly myopic, although with healthy vision; but since the advent of low-energy bulbs I have noticed (i) a lengthening of the period of night-blindness after turning one off in an otherwise light-reduced room (as, faintly lit from a neighbouring room); and (ii) a prolonged flash similar to 'relief colour' inversion after having stared into a light source for some time; to get this, I do not have to have looked directly at the bulb for any time. The effect seems most pronounced with the drake's-willy variety of bulb. As I'm rising-72, perhaps some of this may be related to the aged gent who carries a scythe, and has such a dreadful taste in night-shirts; but the word 'radiation' does press a DEW buzzer for somone who remembers the first Cold War. Wodja reckon?

  38. Chris C

    re: Maybe not that harmful...

    "if one was being truly energy-saving, then parts of the house may be allowed to cool to 12C or less overnight in winter."

    I'd like to see a study done regarding comments like these. For other Americans, 12C is 53.6F. Personally, I think that's entirely unreasonable, but I digress. I'd like to see a study which shows:

    1. The energy usage to let a house (or portions thereof) to cool to 12C overnight, then heat it back up to a reasonable temperature once the room is in-use again.

    2. How long it takes to heat it back up to said reasonable temperature.

    3. The effects on various inanimate objects (primarily computers and other electronics) from the daily cool-heat fluctuations.

    4. The energy usage to keep said house at a constant reasonable temperature.

    Preferably, I'd like to see these numbers for multiple reasonable temperatures (65, 68, 72, 75, etc). I'm all for energy-efficiency and reducing energy consumption where possible, and I'm not above being inconvenienced to some degree to achieve this. But I refuse to be bundled in ten layers of clothes, and still be unable to type because my hands are too cold, just to reduce energy consumption.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    UV dangerous...

    Hmmm... Yes, I have a curly-wirly in my desk anglepoise.

    I live in a place where two-hour power cuts happen almost every day, and it is one of the things on my UPS the low wattage makes a big difference .

    Added to which I spend most of the day in my underpants, as the temperature is usually around 30C.

    I Suppose you're going to tell me next that I should not have the UV-tube insect trap catching mosquitoes just by my feet?

    Oh heck, it's all safer than going outside into the tropical sunshine!

  40. John H Woods


    Anybody who notices flickering at 100Hz is in a very small minority - and I doubt they'd be able to watch television or go to the cinema. My experience is that I am in a fairly small minority in being able to detect flickering up to about 70Hz (maybe associated with defective colour vision) - I look round the office and wonder how people can bear to look at their (50/60Hz scan) monitors.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Halo

    Total B****cks

    We have UV radiation from all sorts of lighting. The sun. Straight tube fluorescent. Tungsten halogen. The rules are always the same. Limit exposure, use a screen: sun screen, diffuser, light fitting, light shade.

    Anyone who is going to sit just 300mm from a bare spiral CFL deserves to get sunburn.

  42. chris

    versus incandescent bulb burns?

    Anyone stupid enough to work the same distance from an incandescent bulb may also find unwanted side-effects emerging.

    1st degree burns followed by 2nd degree with prolonged exposure.

    This will lead to scarring and possible deformation requiring extensive redial action consisting of a hard slap and being told not to be so damn stupid.

    All the quality bulbs have an anti-UV coating, as have the tube shaped ones on your office ceiling.

    The cheap facility managers that buy below market standard quality bulbs are the real culprits here and there are not enough barriers to cause cessation of their dubious activities.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Another "green idea"

    Oh Great, the "green" party here is implementing laws here to ban incandescent bulbs here and make us all use these mercury filled, UV emitting, no good in in emergency, cost 10 times as much bulbs. I wonder if can I get a VAT refund on all the dimmer switches I installed. Time to invest in incandescent light bulb futures.

    Paris, because she knows how to make films in poor lighting conditions.

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