Don't Sit Close To Your CFL Lightbulbs, They May Cause Skin Cancer

CFL-compact-light-turkey-mosque Working or praying too close to CFLs? They may cause skin cancer to warn Israeli health officials.

A big “green” confession: I never did replace all the bulbs in my home with compact fluorescents (CFLs), those swirly-shaped bulbs which use much less energy and therefor produces fewer greenhouse gases. It was the quality of the light I don’t like.

Did I have a moment of prophecy?

According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, Health Ministry officials in Israel are about to warn the public that CFLs may cause skin cancer.

Emitting UV rays similar to that of the sun, a British study about a year ago said that the CFLs under certain conditions emit more than the recommended allowance of UV radiation. While the British Health Protection Agency, which wrote the position paper, did say that people should not ban the bulbs entirely from their homes. It will be interesting to see how the Israeli public responds to the news. According to the British study, the amount of radiation emitted onto a surface 2 cm away is the same emitted by the sun on a hot summer’s day.

The new Israeli recommendations will tell people not to use the CFLs as a main source of lighting for a desk, and the bulbs should not be used at distances closer to 30 centimeters from the room’s occupants.

Haaretz also pointed out a story I wrote about last year – that fluorescent street lights in an Israeli neighborhood were to be blamed for increased breast cancer. Haaretz failed to mention that the street lighting interfered with endogenous chemical signals in the women’s bodies: the increase in cancer in this case could be caused by regular tungsten lights as well, one should presume.

Evidence that CFLs might cause cancer reminds me of the time about 25 years ago or more, when I was a kid, and all the health officials in Canada told people that butter was bad for us and that we should all switch to margarine. Now, health experts say butter is good. I’ve always been a butter person myself, and I am glad I haven’t installed CFLs near my desk where I work 10 hours a day. With global warming, animal extinction, loss of open spaces, pollution in my water, this is just one less thing for me to worry about.

So what about you? Will you scrap your CFLs or keep using them?

Read more in our green lighting solutions article.


Image via Paul Keller

Update: Greenpeace fires back at claim that CFLs can cause cancer

The media also picked up on the second spark, a press release from Spectrum – a coalition of organisations focusing on skin disorders – and the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD). This wasn’t surprising as it contained the word ‘cancer’ and we all know how the Mail loves to froth at the mouth on the subject. The newspaper claimed that the ‘new’ bulbs (they’re not new; they’ve been around for over 30 years) “can give you skin cancer”, but from where I’m sitting the organisations seemed more concerned about making sure people who suffer from photosensitive conditions won’t be left in the dark. Again, that’s fair enough and if there was a general ban on incandescent bulbs, they could still be made available on prescription.

However, Dr Colin Holden from BAD did say: “Photosensitive eruptions range from disabling eczema-like reactions, to light sensitivities that can lead to skin cancer.” On that matter, I refer you to Professor John Hawk of the British Skin Foundation who, when asked on the Today programme if CFLs could cause cancer, said: “I think that is going to far, you’d have to be exposed to them for unbelievable amounts of time. There have been reports in the past suggesting that was possible but they haven’t really been substantiated and I think that’s unlikely to happen.”

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16 thoughts on “Don't Sit Close To Your CFL Lightbulbs, They May Cause Skin Cancer”

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  7. Brian Hayes says:

    Whether butter or bulbs, science is good. But it lags behind politics. Were half the money put to rational studies as there’s put to power and positioning…? Well, I can’t answer my own question, but I think I’ll sit further from CFL bulbs and wonder why our safety came behind fashionable new rules.

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