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Energy-Saving Lamps & Health

7. Conclusions

    The SCENIHR opinion states:

    4. OPINION

    The widespread introduction of energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) and the suggested phasing out of incandescent lamps has caused concerns among patient groups that this would aggravate certain disease conditions. The CFL are technologically developed from conventional fluorescent lamps and differ mainly from those in size, in that they can directly fit into regular light bulb sockets, and in that they are generally equipped with electronic ballasts that stabilize the lamp and provide initial striking voltage which is required to start the lamps arc discharge.

    The European Commission has requested SCENIHR the following:

    1. To determine whether the claims of the "light sensitive" citizens' associations that their symptoms are aggravated by energy saving lamps are justified, based on solid and up-to-date scientific evidence.
    2. If any of the claims is valid, to determine which lamp characteristics (e.g. light wavelength, lamp frequency, electromagnetic fields emitted, etc.) are responsible.
    3. If any of the claims is valid, to estimate the size of the population affected.

    The Scientific Committee established a scientific rationale which is necessary for providing an opinion in response to the request to the Committee. The rationale summarizes physical, engineering, biological, and medical scientific knowledge which is relevant for evaluating if there are specific health risks associated with CFL compared to conventional forms of lighting. Based on this rationale, the Scientific Committee has the following answers to the above-listed three questions:

    Answer to question A

    Based on the mode of operation of the lamps, the Committee identified that the following three lamp characteristics had to be examined in order to determine whether they should be considered as potential triggers for aggravation of some disease-related symptoms:

    A wide range of symptoms have been claimed to be aggravated by the use of energy saving lamps (and CFL in particular) in patients with: xeroderma pigmentosum, lupus, migraine, epilepsy, myalgic encephalomyelitis, Irlen-Meares syndrome, fibromyalgia, electrosensitivity, AIDS (HIV), dyspraxia, and autism. However, the Committee was not able to identify suitable direct data on the relationship between energy saving lamps and any of these conditions because the widespread use of such bulbs is a relatively recent development. Therefore, SCENIHR performed a wider examination of the association between these conditions and the three properties of energy saving lamps. Namely:

    (i) the relevant available literature was collected and ranked for its suitability for risk assessment purposes

    (ii) associations between lamp properties and the above health conditions were identified

    (iii) an extrapolation was made from situations where a correlation was identified that was likely to pertain also for lamp saving bulbs. In doing this, the committee drew particularly on information relating to fluorescent tube use since such tubes display very similar properties to that of compact fluorescent lamps.

    Flicker and/or UV/blue light from various sources other than lamps can in principle exacerbate the symptoms of certain diseases (epilepsy, migraine, retinal diseases, chronic actinic dermatitis, and solar urticaria). However, there is no evidence that use of traditional fluorescent tubes does.

    Answer to question B

    Of all CFL properties, only UV/blue light radiation was identified as a potential risk factor for the aggravation of the light-sensitive symptoms in some patients with such diseases as chronic actinic dermatitis and solar urticaria. No evidence was found that would indicate that either EMF or flicker could be a significant contributor.

    Answer to question C

    The committee wishes to draw attention of the Commission Services to the fact that it has been observed that some single-envelope CFLs emit UVB and traces of UVC radiation. Under extreme conditions (i.e. prolonged exposures at distances <20 cm) these CFLs may lead to UV exposures approaching the current workplace limit set to protect workers from skin and retinal damage.

    Due to the lack of relevant data, the number of all light-sensitive patients in the European Union, who might be at risk from the increased levels of UV/blue light radiation generated by CFL is difficult to estimate. However, a preliminary rough estimation of the worst-case scenario yields a number of around 250,000 individuals (0.05% of the population) in the EU4.

    The committee notes that the use of double-envelope energy saving bulbs or similar technology would largely or entirely mitigate both the risk of approaching workplace limits on UV emissions in extreme conditions and the risk of aggravating the symptoms of light-sensitive individuals.

    5. MINORITY OPINION

    None.

    Source & ©:  Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks, Light Sensitivity (2008),
    4. Opinion, p. 30 - 31


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