Debunking False Claims About Compact Fluorescents (CFLs)

by Matt Kasper

Energy efficient light bulbs continue to be a target of conservatives in Congress. This summer, multiple amendments were approved by House lawmakers trying to prohibit the government from enforcing federal light bulb standards. Republicans falsely claim those standards “ban” incandescent bulbs.

Now, conservative media outlets are seizing on another opportunity to rail on energy efficient bulbs, saying that compact fluorescents are capable of “frying your skin with UVA radiation.” National Public Radio also featured a story last week perpetuating the myth.

Where is this claim coming from? A recent study conducted by researchers at Stony Brook University concluded that the response from healthy skin cells to UV emitted from compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) is consistent with damage from ultraviolet radiation.

However, the report’s findings are not new – and there is no cause for alarm.

Experts already know CFLs emit UV radiation and agree that using CFLs are perfectly safe. The co-author of the study, Dr. Tatiana Mironova, even told Media Matters that “there is no link in scientific literature between CFL exposure and cancer.”

The energy efficient bulbs have been in use since the 1980s in schools, offices, hospitals, and residential houses. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration already has regulations in place for CFLs and explicitly states it is not concerned with the radiation levels from the bulbs.

In 2008, the Health Protection Agency of the United Kingdom found CFLs emit UV radiation, and to prevent any damage to skin cells one should use a lampshade, or the bare bulb should be positioned at least 1ft. away from the skin.

The Chief Executive of the Health Protection Agency, Justin McCracken said, “This is precautionary advice and people should not be thinking of removing these energy saving light bulbs from their homes.”

A European study published in 2008 titled “Light Sensitivity,” concluded similar results:

Within the context of the promotion of wide-spread use of energy saving lamps, such as compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), and the possible phase-out of incandescent lamps, it has been claimed that the symptoms of several diseases may be aggravated in the presence of energy saving lamps.  SCENIHR (Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks) did not find suitable direct scientific data on the relationship between energy saving lamps and the symptoms in patients with various conditions.

Energy efficient appliances, including CFLs, are an important tool for addressing climate change. The standards for CFLs were adopted by Congress in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, and are about 75 percent more efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs — while lasting 10 times longer.

The Energy Star program, designed by the EPA and DOE, helps consumers save on energy by choosing efficient products. According to the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, the products and standards will save consumers and businesses more than $1.1 trillion through 2035.

Matt Kasper is a special assistant for energy policy at the Center for American Progress.

22 Responses to Debunking False Claims About Compact Fluorescents (CFLs)

  1. Paul Klinkman says:

    The critical problem with compact fluorescents is mercury. Chemically sensitive people have reported relatively huge cholinesterase inhibitor reactions to even tiny amounts of heavy metals such as mercury. These bulbs are used indoors, where the mercury vapor is held in the air after breakage. Because heavy metals accumulate in human fat tissue over long periods of time, any exposure above zero is a problem.

    If you can’t name the real medical problem then you probably haven’t thought the problem through.

  2. Turboblocke says:

    There’s less mercury in one of these lamps than in a tuna sandwich.

  3. Paul Klinkman says:

    You’re not aerosolizing the tuna sandwich.

    Also, there are general warnings for everybody about consuming too much mercury in fish, not to mention the hypersensitives.

  4. mark bigland-pritchard says:

    For those of us who live in jurisdictions where the power mix includes even relatively small contributions from coal, continuing to use inefficient tungsten incandescent bulbs routinely puts more mercury into the atmosphere than breaking every one of the equivalent CFLs at the end of its life. (And I’ve been using CFLs since the early 80s and have yet to break one.) For me in Saskatchewan, incandescents are worse mercury emitters by a factor of about 10:1 even on conservative assumptions.
    I look forward to ready availability of LEDs in a wider range of sizes – and I don’t think it is far off – but until then I’m sticking to CFLs.

  5. EDpeak says:

    Great if you can provide something more trustworthy than one .org blog website…how about a peer reviewed study of the average per tuna can (or per tuna sandwich) and a trustworty (e.g. epa) source for avegan in a CFL? thanks.

  6. From Peru says:

    A few questions:

    How much mercury is present in a fluorescent lamp?(in milligramms or micrograms)

    Is mercury released during use (i.e. during the life of the lamp) or only when one of this lamps is broken?

    What are the World Health Organization(WHO) limits for short-term and long term exposure to mercury?

  7. squidboy6 says:

    Mercury is often a natural element in fish, in Santa Barbara Co. there were mercury deposits all over the coastal mountains and interior ranges, the sediment entered the ocean through runoff since most of the water carrying the sediment was basic and mercury wasn’t soluble.

    These bulbs are getting better but the Hg is released when broken so recycling is important.

    The only complaint I regard as valid is the quality of light that they produce, they can be hard to read by, but as I said they are getting better and with less Hg.

    The point that coal produces more Hg than the bulbs is well put.

  8. squidboy6 says:

    The NPR aspect, they became a conservative mouthpiece when Bush became President and they have very little credibility. Reactionary, Rush-quoting, and similar stories are a daily items on NPR.

    One of my complaints about Obama is that he didn’t replace these shills from Bush’s bunch early on. They’ve dragged their feet over fair reporting for more than a decade now.

  9. RobS says:

    I’ve just installed a bunch of
    They are brighter then the halogens they replaced so if anything I’m looking forward to them fading a little. My calculations show each one will save me about $20 per year and they cost me $49 each.
    With greater energy savings and no issue with mercury LEDs will soon make the CFL issues irrelevant.

  10. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Not to worry and attack on LED’s will happen too. They have a single mindset that totally ignores reality.

  11. prokaryotes says:

    New Rechargeable LED Light Tower from Larson Electronics’ Provides High Power and Full Portability

    KEMP, Texas, Aug. 13, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — The WAL-18LED-BP portable and rechargeable LED light tower from provides the high output of LEDs and the portability of rechargeable battery powered operation in a compact and easily deployed system. Designed for reliability and portability, this LED tower light can provide 14 hours of illumination in any location on a single charge and is ideal for construction, emergency services, utilities workers and any where powerful and easily set up lighting is needed in a hurry.
    PR Newswire (

  12. prokaryotes says:

    Two 9 watt LED light heads provide over 1300 lumens of bright white light, and with their efficient operation can run for 14 hours at full power on a single charge of the onboard sealed AGM lead acid battery. Operators can also choose to run a single LED light head to conserve power and run the unit for up to 29 hours instead. This unit is weatherproof and able to withstand 60 mph winds once fully deployed and includes foldable outriggers for excellent stability. Recharging options include charging from vehicles or wall outlets, and operators can also use an included DC plug to operate this tower as a portable power supply and power other devices from the integral 12 VDC battery. This system can operate in temperatures of -40 F/C to + 185F / 85C, and is FAA, DOT, CAB, IA, and TA approved for air transport. Users can also choose from optional lamp assemblies including more powerful LED light bars, colored LED light bars, and infrared output LEDs for applications where night vision devices and equipment is used.
    PR Newswire (

  13. Chris says:

    Simple solution: Don’t break the light bulb! Is that so hard?

  14. Chris says:

    Hmm, it appears incandescent light bulbs cause stupidity.

  15. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    CFLs are useful when one wants concentrated light. But more than CFL it is While LEDs that are revolutionizing lighting sector being least power consuming and long life. Moreover Renewable Energy like Solar can be used to charge LEDs.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  16. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The situation in Australia is identical. The public broadcasters, the ABC and SBS, were thoroughly Howardised during John Howard’s reign, and today are indistinguishable from the Murdoch swill. When Rudd ended Howard’s pathocratic regime, he, too, kept virtually every hard Right policy in place, plus some cynical PR stunts. The even more regrettable Gillard regime is following suit. The ruling caste long ago decided that all the MSM must sing from the same hymnal on all matters, great and small, and thus it has transpired. They need only find some way to nobble the internet and their ideal world of complete uniformity of Rightwing opinion will have arrived.

  17. anderlan says:

    Too much UV is a hazard (skin cancer), as is too little UV (lack of vitamin D production). It is ENTIRELY possible to have a safe level of UV exposure!

  18. Gillian King says:

    Yes, LEDs are storming the market. The anti-CFL brigade are busy, busy, busy becoming irrelevant.

    What will they find to say against LEDs?

  19. Turboblocke says:

    You gotta be kidding me. You can’t even do a search for that information yourself? Here’s a hint: mercury tuna epa. I’ll leave it as an exercise for your neurones to select the search for EPA info on mercury in CFLs.

  20. Mike 22 says:

    I’d like to see your reference for this: “Chemically sensitive people have reported relatively huge cholinesterase inhibitor reactions to even tiny amounts of heavy metals such as mercury.”

  21. Mike 22 says:

    The exposure from these bulbs is in the same ball park as one minute in noon day sun. We are built for some UV–didn’t evolve underground.

  22. Gord says:

    We tried an experiment this past winter. In certain critical locations in our house we replaced the existing CFL bulbs with 100 Watt incandescent bulbs. What we were testing is the hypothesis that they would heat as well as light a room. The lamp shades used were chosen with a larger diameter below the bulb and a smaller diameter above the bulb. This forced the rising cooler air nearer the heating element (the bulb).

    Over the course of a day, the heating was noticable in my cool office, so much so that my space heater was not turned on much. Now we had a warm winter here so this next winter we’ll do the same. We are at 43 degrees lat.

    It might be the case that incandescents have their place for wintertime use in the more northern latitudes.