Debunking False Claims About Compact Fluorescents (CFLs)

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.