The Dangers of CFL's You Need to Know
Posted in Nourishment for the Spirit » Be Green on Sunday, July 7, 2013

"IT'S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE," MIRIAM RAFAILOVICH, PH.D., is saying, perhaps sensing my distress after she'd peppered me with rapid-fire tech talk at her lab at Long Island's Stony Brook University. "Here, look. You can see it."

She holds up one of those spirally CFLs—compact fluorescent lights, the bulbs that have been crowding out incandescents on store shelves. "There," says the materials engineering researcher. "And there. And, oh my, look at that. Wow."

Sure enough, it doesn't take Stephen Hawking to spot a series of hairline cracks in the coiled glass tubing, along with one hole the size of a small beauty mark. "We found the same thing in every bulb we bought," Rafailovich says.

Last year, Rafailovich's research team at Stony Brook conducted a series of experiments showing that these innocent-looking fissures allowed ultraviolet rays to leak out. And leak not just a little of UV radiation but enough to cause skin damage akin to what a day at the beach sans sunscreen might yield. The UV toll on unshielded eyes could be even worse: You may as well be gazing straight at a solar eclipse, she says.

Replacing the old bulbs with the new ones will reduce consumer energy bills by $ 13 billion a year (or $ 100 per household) and save 30 power plants' worth of energy annually once the law is fully implemented, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Good for the planet, good for the wallet. What's not to like?

BATHED IN A RED SOLUTION CALLED CELL-GROWTH MEDIA, the human skin tissue cells swimming in the petri dish look as if they've already suffered a sunburn. Rafailovich's research partner at Stony Brook, Tatsiana Mironava, Ph.D., slips the glass dish onto a foil-wrapped box the size of a large toaster and then places the box just under a slinky-shaped CFL shaded by the green glass hood of a standard banker's desk lamp.

Rafailovich tested cells under nine bulbs purchased randomly at area stores. In each case the bulbs "far exceeded" the threshold, she says. It took one bulb just 42 seconds to reach the amount of UV radiation allotted for an 8-hour period.

"That means that if you sit under that bulb for 8 hours, you're going to get a thousand times more than you can really tolerate," she says.

Indeed, Rafailovich says her study reveals that the response of healthy skin cells to UV rays emitted from CFLs "is consistent with damage from ultraviolet radiation." As with excessive sun exposure, that could make the cells more susceptible to mutation and even cancer. By contrast, under incandescent light of the same intensity, the skin cells sustained no damage.

Of the dozens of bulbs the Stony Brook researchers examined, every one had imperfections that allowed ultraviolet radiation to escape. "Most compact fluorescents have cracks in the phosphor coating, probably due to the fact that the coating is brittle and has trouble making the tight bends required to make these bulbs compact," says Mironava.

In addition to the potential skin damage—which Rafailovich says is "exactly like being in the sun"—looking directly at a CFL can be harmful. Without anything to protect the pupils, the radiation "goes straight to the retina," she says. (Go here to see more risks from LED lights.)

She and other experts acknowledge that much of the problem can be solved simply by keeping the CFLs at a distance. But what to do about bedside and living room lamps? "That's the problem," Rafailovich says.

And yet, of the two types of bulbs, it's CFLs that the EPA seems most worried about consumers breaking, even going so far as to issue a 21-step set of instructions for what to do in the event you break one. Start by evacuating the room for 5 to 10 minutes. Then shut off the central forced-air heating/air-conditioning. Gather materials you need for the cleanup, including stiff paper or cardboard, sticky tape, damp paper towels, and a glass jar with a metal lid or sealable plastic bags.

But why all the hazmat-level precautions, especially if the mercury levels are as insignificant as Horowitz claims? Because with an incandescent, a broken bulb makes a mess, but with a CFL, it makes mercury vapors. In a 2012 study, a team of researchers at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece found that when a CFL cracks open, harmful levels of mercury vapor—a neurotoxin with numerous potential damaging effects—can linger some 4 hours afterward. "Indoor air concentration of mercury vapor may exceed toxicological thresholds of concern such as the acute Reference Exposure Limit (REL) for mercury vapor set by the Environmental Protection Agency of California," the study authors noted.

"If you clean them up properly, there is no problem, I agree," says Denis Sarigiannis, Ph.D., who led the study. "But what happens if you don't? What happens if you try to clean them up and don't follow the proper procedure?" How many people are really going to follow all those instructions—and the additional list of proper recycling techniques? The EPA recommends recycling, but if you can't, it suggests sealing the bulbs in a plastic bag and placing them in the trash. That's a lot of trust to put in a plastic bag.

These are concerns shared by Trent University's Havas. "Most people don't know how to clean up the mess, and they often do the wrong thing," she says. "They bring out a vacuum cleaner and use bare hands to pick up the glass shards, and that's about the worst thing you can do." As the EPA points out, vacuuming may spread a cloud of mercury. And touching the glass with your hands can contaminate them with residual mercury—if you put one of those hands in or near your mouth, you're directly ingesting a neurotoxin.

IF SIMPLY USING CFLs CARRIES HEALTH RISKS, you can only imagine the peril that's posed to the people who manufacture them. Unfortunately, you don't have to imagine—and neither do they.

Over the past decade, hundreds of workers at lighting factories in China, where most CFLs are made, have suffered mercury poisoning, says a 2009 article in the Sunday Times in London. It noted that a medical journal published by China's health ministry "describes [a] compact fluorescent lightbulb factory in Jinzhou, in central China, where 121 out of 123 employees had excessive mercury levels. One man's level was 150 times the accepted standard."

 

Read the full article here........http://www.menshealth.com/health/health-risks-fluorescent-lightbulbs

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