Are Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs Safe?


You may have heard about UV rays and mercury being associated with compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs and therefore, you may be wondering if they could be producing UV light and mercury fumes that could be harmful to your health.

Generally, CFL bulbs are energy-efficient and safe as long as you use them as directed. The truth of the matter is that while there are different types of fluorescent bulbs on the market, they all contain mercury vapor. The issue is that when the mercury vapor is exposed to an electric current, the UV is absorbed by phosphor inside the bulb, a process that results in some UV rays being released.

UV Rays By Fluorescent Bulbs?

According to the University of California, Berkeley, lab experiments have proven that fluorescent bulbs do emit some UV rays. In some cases, it’s enough UV rays to damage people’s skin cells, the ones located directly under the skin.

But why would this happen when there is a phosphor coating? It’s because the layer of phosphor in CFL bulbs does not stay intact. It’s common for it to get cracks and chips, which allow UV rays to pass through the chips and cracks. So, do you throw out all of your CFL bulbs out of fear of getting skin cancer? The solution is to keep your distance; you don’t have to replace your fluorescent bulbs unless you want to.

The university’s advice is to always make sure you are at least two or three feet away from CFL bulbs. What’s more, if the CFL bulbs happen to be behind something, such as a shade, glass, or plastic, the UV rays will reduce significantly, if not be eliminated entirely.

The key is to make sure your bare skin is not within a foot or two of a CFL bulb for more than a very short period. And to protect your eyes, do not start directly into a CFL bulb.

Beware of Mercury Exposure

If a CFL bulb breaks open, you’re at risk of mercury exposure. Even though there’s very little mercury in CFL bulbs, no amount of mercury exposure is safe. If a CFL breaks, open the window and vent out the room for at least 10 minutes. When cleaning up the mess, wear disposable gloves and stiff paper or wet paper towel to scoop it up. Do NOT vacuum as that can spread the vapor or powder. Dispose of everything in a sealed plastic bag.

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