LED light bulbs: the future of energy or cancer?

As energy efficiency and stricter environmental standards become increasingly important in the policy sphere, LED, or light emitting diode, lighting has had much success. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 established a higher minimum efficiency standard for medium screw base light bulbs, which effectively eliminates incandescent bulbs that are 100W or less from the market [1].

Instead of only converting 10% at most of their energy to light like incandescent bulbs, LED bulbs convert 60% of their energy to light, resulting in decades more use from just one bulb. From daylight to white, red to blue, and immediately bright to a soft glow, a growing variety of colors and dimming options are available to match your mood. On top of that, LED bulbs are now available for your home for under $10. [2]

With all of these benefits, there must be some kind of drawback, right? Compact florescent light bulbs (another energy efficient alternative to incandescents) contain mercury vapor, which emits UV rays when in contact with an electric current. Cracks in the bulbs coating allow these rays to escape into your living room and come in contact with your skin, potentially causing skin cancer. Opponents of LED bulbs claim they contain the same UV rays and therefore are a risk, when in fact the light source of a LED bulb is a blue light source that poses no danger. [3]

So if it doesn’t emit UV rays, why are there concerns of LED bulbs causing cancer? According to a study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, “excessive levels” of arsenic, lead, copper, and nickel, among other potentially harmful substances are found in LED bulbs [4]. When the bulbs are broken, these chemicals are released as gas and liquid, meaning when you clean one up you could be ingesting arsenic. [5] Experts suggest wearing protective clothing and disposing of cleaning materials as hazardous waste just to be safe.

However, despite this downside, in comparison to current technology LED bulbs seem to be the best choice. Every technology poses some kind of risk, especially those with chemical reactions and an electrical current. At least with LEDs there is a much greater gain in energy and economic efficiency than in posing a potential danger to health.


 http://www.lightingfacts.com/content/efficiency/summary [1]

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/21/technology/personaltech/cheaper-led-bulbs-make-it-easier-to-switch-lights.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0&ref=technology [2]

http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/08/08/158426970/energy-efficient-lightbulbs-have-a-dark-side-when-it-comes-to-health [3]

Potential Environmental Impacts of Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs): Metallic Resources, Toxicity, and Hazardous Waste Classification

Seong-Rin Lim, Daniel Kang, Oladele A. Ogunseitan, and Julie M. Schoenung

Environmental Science & Technology 2011 45 (1), 320-327 [4]

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=led-lightbulb-concerns [5]




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2 responses to “LED light bulbs: the future of energy or cancer?

  1. hfateh

    You make a very interesting point. The first thought that came to my mind after reading this article was that we don’t really have a standard method of disposing devices like modern light bulbs, or anything of such sort. Throwing them in our trash cans is not always the best option. As new developments take place and we start producing advanced lighting devices, it is evident that the ingredients of such devices may well be toxic, and strong chemical products may be involved. However, general public is not always aware of this. I believe we need to educate people about the drawbacks of new technologies along with their advantages. They need to be aware of what the limitations are and how such devices should be dealt with, not only at the time of operation, but also when they age. One way to do this could be to include this important information in the advertisement for such products.

  2. An alternative to the LED light bulb is the induction light bulb, which is comparable to LED but less well-known. An induction bulb operates similar to fluorescent bulbs in terms of the structure: an electrical current reacts with mercury vapor which excites and emits UV light. However, the induction bulb does not use a filament or internal diodes, and instead, it excites the mercury with a powerful electromagnet outside of the bulb itself. This science gives induction light bulbs an even longer lifespan than LED lights, with some induction bulbs lasting for 100,000 hours. There are drawbacks of induction lighting of course. They include: mercury, UV light, and high amounts of electrical radiation. [1]

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