Even as the European Union works to phase out traditional incandescent lights by the end of the year in an attempt to rein in carbon emission, a report from scientists working at Berlin's Alab laboratory has refuelled apprehensions over the carcinogenic implications of energy saving devices, bulbs in particular.
The report indicates that energy saving compact fluorescent lamps released several cancer-causing chemicals such as phenol, naphthalene and styrene in a form of steam as they were switched on. Consequently, the researchers have advised against the use of these lamps in close proximity of the human head and body, for example as a night lamp for reading.
Andreas Kirchner, from the Federation of German Engineers, advocated against the use of the bulbs in unventilated areas or in the proximity of the head, citing the risks posed by a kind of electrical smog that develops around the lighted bulbs.
Incidentally, this is not the first time that fears have been expressed over the health hazards associated with the use of CFL; it has already been established that these green bulbs if broken release potentially harmful amounts of Mercury. Early in 2008 doctors from the British Association of Dermatologists had said that environmentally friendly bulbs could exacerbate existing skin conditions in many patients and even lead to skin cancer. A biologist from the Haifa University in Israel is also known to have warned about increased risks of breast cancer from exposure to energy efficient bulbs.
However, the most recent research from Germany needs to be backed up with more independent research before sounding a blanket warning against use of such lighting. Most of the released substances identified are anyway used in a wide variety of common uses and it would be important to establish the intensity or duration of exposure that could trigger carcinogenic reaction. Phenol, for example, when ingested in high concentrations could kill, but is used in small doses in a lot of every day chemicals, from mouth washes to strong disinfectants.
The German agency for environmental protection has already issued a warning against mass hysteria. The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) of the UK also maintains: Energy efficient light bulbs are not a danger to the public. Like many household products, they must be disposed of sensibly and there are suitable facilities available for this purpose. Although they contain mercury, limited at 5mg per lamp, it cannot escape from a lamp that is intact. In any case, the very small amount contained in an energy efficient bulb is unlikely to cause harm even if the lamp should be broken.