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Energy-Saving Lamps & Health

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

    The SCENIHR opinion states:

    3.6 Risk Assessment

    The concerns identified for energy saving bulbs have been attributed to one or more of the following properties:

    • Flicker
    • Electromagnetic field radiation
    • UV and blue light emission

    It is essential to recognise that energy saving light bulbs are similar in nearly all respects to fluorescent tubes which have been in widespread use in the Member States for many decades. However, from the limited data available to us, some energy saving lamps appear to emit UV-B and traces of UV-C in contrast to the previously most widely used types of fluorescent tubes. These data also indicate that lamps are different regarding both the emitted wavelengths of UV and UV intensity. Incandescent lamps do not emit significant quantities of UV radiation. A hazard assessment that considers the possible effects of these three properties is set out in the preceding sections of this report.

    The modulation of light intensity from energy saving lamps is of a much higher rate than that may be perceived as flicker. Flicker, observed with low frequencies, is associated with adverse health effects in the small percentage of individuals with certain pre-existing diseases (epilepsy, migraine, and photophobia). There is no evidence that these conditions are exacerbated by normally functioning fluorescent tubes. It can therefore be concluded that the flicker from energy saving bulbs is most unlikely to produce significant adverse health effects even in flicker susceptible individuals.

    The SCENIHR has addressed the issue of the claimed hypersensitivity of a few individuals to electromagnetic fields (SCENIHR 2007). It is noted that such claimed effects could not be reproduced in controlled provocation tests. There are no supporting data on the possible contribution of fluorescent tubes or energy saving lamps to such claimed hypersensitivity. As the SCENIHR will provide a further opinion in November on the possible health effects of EMF, further risk assessment of the EMF contribution from energy saving lamps is not considered here.

    Exposure to UV/blue light radiation provides both some health benefits (e.g. boosting vitamin D levels and psychological effects) and some health risks (e.g. skin cancer). It is important from a public health viewpoint that the exposure to UV radiation, particularly UV–C is limited. In the workplace, limits have been set for exposure to UV radiation (Directive 2006/25/EC). The principal source of exposure of the great majority of the public to UV radiation is the sun. However, there is also widespread exposure from fluorescent tubes and a number of types of spot lights. These light sources are the predominant form of lighting in offices and other workplaces, shops, public transport vehicles, hospitals, and places of entertainment. They are also increasingly used in areas of domestic premises such as kitchens. It is in domestic premises where by far the greatest change in lighting will occur as a result of the switch from incandescent bulbs to energy saving lamps. This change may result in both increased duration of exposure of the public to some UV radiation wavelengths over a 24-hour period and perhaps also an increased intensity of exposure due to the closer proximity (and possibly increased area of skin exposure) to certain light sources, e.g. table lamps.

    In terms of the potential health risk it is appropriate to consider separately two population groups: a) the general population and b) individuals who have demonstrable hypersensitivity to UV light.

    a) General population.

    As noted above UV radiation from energy saving lamps is just one source of exposure to UV radiation. In the case of light sources such as table lamps to which individuals may be in close proximity (around 20 cm or less) the exposure to UV radiation, if the use of such sources is prolonged, might approach but is not likely to exceed the workplace limit. Thus, for this particular use, there may be a health risk for the general public. The committee notes that the use of double envelope bulbs or similar technology for such lighting devices would remove this risk (Khazova and O'Hagan 2008). In other use situations the risk is considered negligible. Compact fluorescent lamps could create a risk of blue light over-exposure contributing to some retinal damage when in close proximity to the eye.

    b) Individuals who have demonstrable hypersensitivity to UV/blue light radiation.

    There are a number of individuals across Europe who suffer from a variety of disorders which renders them exceptionally sensitive to UV/blue light radiation. The prevalence of these conditions is extremely low (ranging from one case per 3,000,000 to 0.0004% and 0.02% of the general population). The prevalence of only polymorphic light eruption represents a sizable portion (up to 20%) of the general population. However, due to the nature of the condition, the likelihood of patients with polymorphic light eruption to be affected by CFL is rather low. The number of all patients in Europe, who might be at risk from the increased levels of UV/blue light radiation generated by CFL, is estimated at around 250,000 individuals. Hypersensitive patients are constantly at risk of exposure to much higher levels of UV/blue light radiation from sources other than CFL. Therefore, those patients are usually closely monitored and provided advice by health care professionals. The committee notes that the use of double envelope energy saving bulbs or similar technology in the dwellings of such individuals would largely or entirely mitigate this increased risk.

    Source & ©:  Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks, Light Sensitivity (2008),
    3. Scientific Rationale, Section 3.6. Risk Assessment, p. 27 – 29

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