Fluorescent lamps and health

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Common T8 fluorescent lighting fixture

Fluorescent lamps have been suggested to affect human health in various ways.

Flicker effects[edit]

New lighting systems have not used magnetic ballasts since the turn of the century, however some older installations still remain. Fluorescent lamps with magnetic ballasts flicker at a normally unnoticeable frequency of 100 or 120 Hz (twice of the utility frequency; the lamp is lit on both the positive and negative half-wave of a cycle). This flickering can cause problems for some individuals with light sensitivity[1] and are associated with headaches and eyestrain. Such lamps are listed as problematic for some individuals with autism, epilepsy,[2] lupus,[3] chronic fatigue syndrome, Lyme disease,[4] and vertigo.[5] Newer fluorescent lights without magnetic ballasts have essentially eliminated flicker.[6][7]

Individuals with high flicker fusion threshold are particularly affected by these obsolete, electromagnetic ballasts: their EEG alpha waves are markedly attenuated and they perform office tasks with greater speed and decreased accuracy.[8] Ordinary people have better reading performance using frequency (50–60 Hz) electromagnetic ballasts than electronic ballasts, although the effect was large only for the case of luminance contrast.[9]

Early studies suspected a relationship between the flickering of fluorescent lamps with electromagnetic ballasts and repetitive movement in autistic children.[10] However, these studies had interpretive problems[11] and have not been replicated.

Ultraviolet radiation risk[edit]

An open (single envelope) CFL[12]
An encapsulated/closed (double envelope) CFL

Some fluorescent lamps emit ultraviolet radiation.[citation needed] The Health Protection Agency of the United Kingdom has conducted research concluding that exposure to open (single envelope) compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) for over 1 hour per day at a distance of less than 30 cm can exceed guideline levels as recommended by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).[citation needed]

Not all open CFLs produce significant UV emissions. However, close proximity to bare skin can result in exposure levels similar to direct sunlight. The Health Protection Agency of the United Kingdom recommend that in situations requiring close proximity to the light source, open (single envelope) CFLs be replaced with encapsulated (double envelope) CFLs.[13]

In 2009, Natural Resources Canada released a report[14] describing the possible UV exposure from several types of lamps. The report states that at 3 cm distance, the recommended daily exposure to ultraviolet radiation for skin and eye damage (if looking directly at the lamp) was attained between 50 minutes and 5 hours depending on the type of lamp. The report observes that such a close distance is unlikely in actual use. The report also states that most bare-spiral lamps tested gave off more UV than the 60 watt incandescent lamp tested, but that the encapsulated (double envelope) CFLs emitted less UV radiation. At 30 cm distance, the recommended maximum daily exposure was attained between 3 hours and 6 hours, with little difference between the studied 60 watt incandescent lamp and any bare-spiral CFL. The report states that the threshold limit values used represent otherwise healthy individuals who are not experiencing any hypersensitivity conditions or exposed to substances that increase UV sensitivity. Outdoor sunlight can supply the maximum recommended daily UV exposure in 20 to 100 minutes.[clarification needed]

SCENIHR study and report[edit]

The Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) in 2008 reviewed the connections between artificial light and numerous human diseases. The abstract of the report states that no suitable scientific evidence was available of a relationship between fluorescent lighting and several diseases in humans. The abstract states that in the worst case 0.05% of the European Union population have light-sensitivity conditions that may be affected by blue light or UV emitted by artificial light sources. The abstract further notes that double-walled lamps would reduce UV emissions of concern to sensitive individuals.[15]

Self-reporting suggests fluorescent lamps aggravate dyslexia, but tests show that dyslexic patients are unable to detect flicker emanating from light sources. This opinion was updated by SCENIHR in 2012, with no significant changes from the opinion of 2008.[16]


Fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, a toxic substance. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides safety guidelines for how to clean up a broken fluorescent bulb.[17] Mercury can be harmful to children and developing fetuses, so children and pregnant women should avoid being in the area whilst a broken bulb is cleaned up.[18]

Bulbs which have reached the end of their life should not be disposed of in normal trash, as this may release the mercury into the environment if the bulb is damaged.[19] Several countries have specialised recycling or disposal systems for fluorescent bulbs. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the amount of mercury contained in a compact fluorescent lamp (about 4–5 mg[20]) is approximately 1% of the amount found in a single dental amalgam filling or old-style glass thermometer.[21] Some linear fluorescent lamps contain reduced mercury (as low as 1.7 mg)[22] and are typically termed as "Green" and are recognizable by their green caps/tips.[23]

The U.S. EPA states that using energy-efficient CFLs reduces demand for power, which reduces the amount of coal burned by power plants and hence reduces the amount of mercury emitted from coal fired power plants.[24]

Other conditions associated with fluorescent light[edit]

In rare cases individuals with solar urticaria (allergy to sunlight) can get a rash from fluorescent lighting, although this is true of any source of light.[25] Very photosensitive individuals with systemic lupus erythematosus may experience disease activity under artificial light. Standard acrylic diffusers over the fluorescent lamps absorb nearly all the UV-B radiation and appear to protect against this.[26]

One paper suggested that in rare cases, fluorescent lighting can also induce depersonalization and derealization; subsequently, it can worsen depersonalization disorder symptoms.[27]

The charity Migraine Action Association reported concerns from members that CFL bulbs can cause migraines,[28] and there are many anecdotal reports of such occurrences.[28][29][30]


  1. ^ "Photosensitivity". Job Accommodation Network.
  2. ^ "Epilepsy/Seizure Disorder". Job Accommodation Network.
  3. ^ "Lupus". Job Accommodation Network.
  4. ^ Shadick NA, Phillips CB, Sangha O, et al. (December 1999). "Musculoskeletal and neurologic outcomes in patients with previously treated Lyme disease". Annals of Internal Medicine. 131 (12): 919–26. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-131-12-199912210-00003. PMID 10610642. S2CID 20746489.
  5. ^ "Accommodating People with Vertigo". Archived from the original on 2008-06-08.
  6. ^ "Lighting Ergonomics - Light Flicker". Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). 13 June 2023.
  7. ^ "Flickering Fallacy: The Myth of Compact Fluorescent Lightbulb Headaches". Scientific American. Retrieved 2017-12-07.
  8. ^ Küller R, Laike T (1998). "The impact of flicker from fluorescent lighting on well-being, performance and physiological arousal". Ergonomics. 41 (4): 433–47. doi:10.1080/001401398186928. PMID 9557586.
  9. ^ Veitch JA, McColl SL (1995). "Modulation of fluorescent light: flicker rate and light source effects on visual performance and visual comfort". Light Res Tech. 27 (4): 243–256. doi:10.1177/14771535950270040301. S2CID 36983942. Retrieved 2012-06-28.[dead link]
  10. ^ Colman RS, Frankel F, Ritvo E, Freeman BJ (1976). "The effects of fluorescent and incandescent illumination upon repetitive behaviors in autistic children". J Autism Child Schizophr. 6 (2): 157–62. doi:10.1007/BF01538059. PMID 989489. S2CID 41749390.
  11. ^ Turner M (1999). "Annotation: Repetitive behaviour in autism: a review of psychological research". J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 40 (6): 839–49. doi:10.1017/S0021963099004278. PMID 10509879.
  12. ^ "Philips Tornado Asian Compact Fluorescent". Lamptech.co.uk. Retrieved 18 June 2013.
  13. ^ "Emissions from compact fluorescent lights". Health Protection Agency. 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-10-13. Retrieved 2009-08-31.
  14. ^ "Executive Summary: Report on Health Canada Survey of Ultraviolet Radiation and Electric and Magnetic Fields from Compact Fluorescent Lamps" (PDF). Canada. 2009-12-21. Retrieved 2016-06-15.
  15. ^ "Light Sensitivity, Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks" (PDF). Director-General for Health and Consumers, European Commission. 2008. p. 4. Retrieved 2009-08-31.
  16. ^ Mattsson M-O; et al. (2012). "Health Effects of Artificial Light" (PDF). Scenihr.
  17. ^ "Cleaning up a Broken CFL". 22 January 2013.
  18. ^ [1], US Environmental Protection Agency. Last updated on 12/29/2014. Retrieved on May 08, 2015.
  19. ^ "Fluorescent Lamp Disposal and Recycling" (PDF). Fluorescent lamps that are not low-mercury or green-marked are generally considered to be regulated hazardous waste after their useful life.
  20. ^ John Balbus (July 31, 2007). "Mercury Risk in CFLs: The Facts". Environmental Defense Fund. Retrieved March 9, 2018.
  21. ^ Scott Norris (2007-05-18). "Fluorescent Lights' Mercury Poses Dim Threat". National Geographic News. Archived from the original on 2007-12-28.
  22. ^ "Philips Lighting introduces revolutionary new Alto II linear fluorescent lamp technology". www.ledsmagazine.com. 6 September 2007.
  23. ^ "Management of "Green" Fluorescent Bulbs - Wisconsin DNR" (PDF).
  24. ^ "What are the Connections between Mercury and CFLs? | Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs) | US EPA". Archived from the original on 2014-04-13. Retrieved 2014-04-13.
  25. ^ Beattie PE, Dawe RS, Ibbotson SH, Ferguson J (2003). "Characteristics and prognosis of idiopathic solar urticaria: a cohort of 87 cases". Arch Dermatol. 139 (9): 1149–54. doi:10.1001/archderm.139.9.1149. PMID 12975156. S2CID 27326748.
  26. ^ Rihner M, McGrath H Jr (1992). "Fluorescent light photosensitivity in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus". Arthritis Rheum. 35 (8): 949–52. doi:10.1002/art.1780350816. PMID 1642660.
  27. ^ Simeon D, Knutelska M, Nelson D, Guralnik O (2003). "Feeling unreal: a depersonalization disorder update of 117 cases". Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 64 (9): 990–7. doi:10.4088/JCP.v64n0903. PMID 14628973.
  28. ^ a b "EU phases out low efficency [sic] light bulbs". Migraine Action. 2009. Archived from the original on 2009-04-02. Retrieved 2009-09-04. However as reported regularly by Migraine Action, there are concerns - voiced by many members - that the new bulbs can cause migraines.
  29. ^ "Low-energy bulbs 'cause migraine'". BBC. 2008-01-02. Retrieved 2009-09-04.
  30. ^ "Phasing out 100W lightbulbs 'could damage health of Britons'". London: Daily Telegraph. 2009-08-31. Archived from the original on 2009-09-03. Retrieved 2009-09-04.