The Quiet Revolution In Lighting

There has been little notice of the planned phase out in the United States of most incandescent light bulbs in the next two years. We are actually behind several other countries that are already well along in the process of replacing regular incandescent bulbs for LED and Compact Fluorescent lights.

The impetus behind this change is energy efficiency.

Florescent and LED lights are 4 to 10 times more efficient than incandescent bulbs. They also last much longer than incandescent bulbs. Most common incandescent bulbs – 40 watt through 100 watt – will be unavailable by 2014.

Thomas Edison is perhaps rolling over in his grave.

This change has been visible when we make semi-regular pilgrimages to the local hardware store. More and more shelves are filled with these funny looking spiral shaped bulbs (at 2-3 times the price).

Just the other day a company nurse asked me about the health effects to expect from increased exposure to florescent lighting. Health effects from florescent lighting, I asked nervously, looking over my shoulder at my office lighting. Perhaps a little research is in order.

It doesn’t take long on the Internet to find some ominous sounding quasi-scientific concerns regard fluorescent lightening. Let’s explore some.

Seizure risk: Fluorescent lights traditionally are driven by magnetic ballasts and flicker at 100 to 120 times per second. Like movies, which are a series of still pictures flashed on the screen at 24 times per second, almost all people are unable to perceive the flickering of the light (anything over 16 flashes per second is seen as continuous light). Theoretically the light flickering could trigger a seizure. This is more of a theoretical concern, than something neurologists are treating. Since compact florescent lights use electrical ballast, there is no flickering, thus no seizure risk.

Ultraviolet radiation: Ultraviolet radiation is often raised as a concern with fluorescent lights. UV light is emitted from some fluorescent lights in relatively greater amounts. There are a handful of rare dermatological conditions that have been suggested to be worsened by high UV emitting florescent lights. Even a few that are improved. The florescent bulbs can be constructed to emit various light frequencies for different applications. High output UV lights are used to simulate sunlight in aquariums, terrariums and tanning beds. The UV exposure approximates sunshine, perhaps useful for the “winter blues.” Florescent lights can be manufactured with double walls to eliminate almost all UV light. The color of the light is also becoming more of a choice; gone are the days of harsh blue-white light showing every skin imperfection. Florescent lights now are designed to emit a more amber glow, longer wavelengths, a light that flatters people and interiors.

Aside from UV radiation, which is completely manageable with light design, there is little evidence they will otherwise cause you injury.

After looking at risk from UV radiation, we quickly travel into so-called “emerging science.” That is a euphemism for information that is not explained by conventional scientific thinking. Not surprisingly, the diseases mentioned as having some possible connection to florescent lighting are among the least understood diseases. Autism and Lupus are examples of such diseases. There is no scientific support for such claims.

The wholesale change to florescent lightening may provide a few surprises, but not health ones.

So, I am not buying cases of incandescent bulbs to horde or sell on eBay. Florescent lights are well researched and improved in design every year. Your house and job will be a little more efficient for the change – and you might ultimately have a little more jingle in your pocket.

Take care,

Dr B

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