Not that noted fast-food chicken sandwich enthusiast/professional foot-in-mouther/incandescent lady-warrior Michele Bachmann and the rest of the “CFL bulbs are evil and dangerous” crowd need any more ammo or anything, but a recent study conducted by researchers at Stony Brook University’s National Science Foundation-funded Garcia Center for Polymers at Engineered Interfaces has found that ultraviolet radiation can leak through cracks in the phosphor coating of compact fluorescent light bulbs and, in turn, potentially damage otherwise healthy human skin cells. The study, inspired by similar European research, was published last month in the journal Photochemistry and Photobiology.
As mentioned over at GOOD, certain media outlets have been having a field day with the findings and even reputable, green-minded sources have resorted to scary and sensationalist skin cancer-related headlines. Well, here’s the thing: unless you fashion a DIY tanning bed out of Plumen bulbs or position your pretty little face 3-inches away from a CFL bulb with numerous "bald spots" for several hours every day, you shouldn't have anything to worry about. It's concerning, yes, but with normal use, the rays emitted though cracks and chips in the UV-absorbing coating of CFL bulbs won’t give you skin cancer, so there’s no reason to freak out about indoor sunburn and give them the old heave-ho.
“Our study revealed that the response of healthy skin cells to UV emitted from CFL bulbs is consistent with damage from ultraviolet radiation," says lead study author Dr. Miriam Rafailovich, a famed materials engineering researcher, in a release issued by Stony Brook University. She adds: “Despite their large energy savings, consumers should be careful when using compact fluorescent light bulbs. Our research shows that it is best to avoid using them at close distances and that they are safest when placed behind an additional glass cover.” A simple shade wouldn't hurt either. Tatiana Mironova, the study’s co-author, admits to Media Matters that "there is no link in scientific literature between CFL exposure and cancer."
My simple advice: use common sense and, as Rafailovich advises, be careful, folks. After all, you wouldn’t roll around on the floor in the same area where you’ve just broken a CFL bulb — remember, the much-maligned energy-saving bulbs do contain trace amounts of mercury and should be properly handled and disposed of when they break or expire — now would you?
And in case you wondering, LED bulbs appear to be UV-free.