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Energy-Saving Lamps & Health

6. Do energy-saving lamps pose a risk to some groups of patients in the EU?

    In contrast to incandescent lamps, fluorescent tubes emit some ultraviolet radiation. Energy-saving compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) are similar in nearly all respects to fluorescent tubes which have been in widespread use in the Member States for many decades, but the types of ultraviolet radiation that they emit is slightly different. Besides ultraviolet radiation, the main causes for concern are flickering and the electromagnetic fields and blue light that these lamps produce.

    Some people with epilepsy, as well as those who are very sensitive to light (photophobia) and those suffering from migraines, are adversely affected by flickering lights. The intensity of the light from energy-saving lamps varies constantly but at a rate that cannot normally be perceived as a flicker. Any residual flicker is unlikely to cause any harmful health effects even in susceptible individuals, unless the fluorescent tube is damaged.

    Some people claim to be extremely sensitive to electromagnetic fields although they could not show this in controlled tests. To date there is no evidence that fluorescent lamps or CFLs contribute to such claimed hypersensitivity.

    Exposure to blue light and ultraviolet radiation has some health benefits: it boosts vitamin D levels and has beneficial psychological effects. However, ultraviolet radiation can also cause skin cancer so it is important to limit exposure, particularly to UVC. The main source of exposure to ultraviolet radiation is the sun, but people are also exposed to some ultraviolet radiation from fluorescent tubes and some types of spotlights predominantly used in offices and public spaces and increasingly in houses. The greatest change in lighting will occur in private homes as a result of the switch from conventional incandescent lamps to energy-saving lamps. This change may result in people being exposed to some ultraviolet radiation for longer periods and perhaps at higher intensities because energy-saving lamps are sometimes used closer to the skin than conventional fluorescent tubes, for instance in table lamps.

    For the general population, the use of CFLs is unlikely to constitute a risk unless they use the lamps for long periods of time close to the skin, for instance a table lamp. In this case, the exposure to ultraviolet radiation could approach, but not exceed, acceptable limits. The use of energy saving CFLs with double glass envelopes or similar technology would remove this risk. Also, the high blue light content of some CFLs could damage the retina of people who place these lamps close to the eye.

    People with disorders that make them exceptionally sensitive to ultraviolet or blue light radiation could be at risk from CFLs. Across Europe, approximately 250,000 people could be concerned, which represents 1 person out of 2000 (preliminary rough estimation of worst case scenario). However, these patients are constantly at risk of exposure to much higher levels of ultraviolet and blue light radiation from sources other than CFLs. Therefore, those patients are usually closely monitored and provided advice by health care professionals. The risk would be mitigated partly or entirely if the CFLs in the patients’ homes were fitted with double glass envelopes or other methods decreasing ultraviolet and blue light radiation. More...

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