The danger of compact fluorescent lighting

When I travel these days I always pack a four pack of incandescent light bulbs with me. Occasionally I will forget and then my first stop is always to the nearest Safeway or drug store to buy a pack. The more I hear about the possibility of a ban on these types of bulbs the more I worry. Should I start a stockpile of them in my basement now? Or have faith that LEDs will become more widespread before the ban or perhaps some new alternative will be developed.

So why does this worry me?

Yes there is the concern about the mercury in CFLs, a known toxic substance. But what concerns me the most is that CFLs or compact fluorescent lighting makes me sick. I can be under it for a short period of time, say an hour or two, but that’s it. If I spend a day under CFLs (or in my case also the classic tube fluorescence lights), it usually takes me a day to get back to normal. My head hurts, I feel dizzy, I can’t hold thoughts, I feel drained yet I can’t sleep that evening, and I feel irritated and depressed.

I know I’m not the only one. I’ve talked to others who have similar problems and there have been some reports about CFLs increasing migrants, depression, and worsening symptoms in diseases such as Lupus. Traditionally healers, such as Barbara Ann Brennan, have long advised to never do healing work under fluorescence lighting of any kind to avoid making yourself ill. These lights drain our energy and especially for us in a healing profession this can be very dangerous.

Studies have also show that children do much better under normal lighting. From Earthwatch – Compact Fluorescents vs. Full Spectrum Bulbs

Elementary school Principal William Titoff, in his Ph.D. dissertation, found that “there was a statistically significant difference between students who worked under old-style fluorescent lights and those who worked under full-spectrum, visually-efficient lighting.” His study also found that depression was reduced among those students who studied under full spectrum lights and that it increased among fourth graders who sat under fluorescents.

A similar study, conducted in Florida in 1973 by light pioneer Dr. John Ott, found that students under fluorescents were more likely to be irritable, hyperactive, fatigued and have trouble paying attention. The students under full spectrum lights were better behaved and performed better academically within one month of the lights’ installation.

Here is another interesting letter to the editor about CFLs from Dr. Magda Havas, B.Sc. Ph.D a researcher in electromagnetic pollution from Trent University which explains part of the problem.

As Dr. Havas states –
Compact fluorescent lights (CFL) produce radio wave frequencies. These frequencies radiate directly from the bulbs and go on the electrical wiring in the home or school causing poor power quality or dirty electricity. The closer you sit to the bulb the greater your exposure. Because the high frequencies travel along the wire you can be exposed in other rooms of your home as well as the room that contains the CFL.

So why do I bring this up on an animal site?

I worry as more and more people replace their traditional bulbs with CFLs that these new bulbs will affect the health of not just the people in the house, but also the animals. I am lucky enough to be able to tell that CFLs make me sick and do something about it, but how will you be able to tell if CFLs are making your animal sick? They cannot tell us if they are having headaches or just feeling bad.

Also new research has come to light that indicates that CFLs emit a high humming sound that is not in our range of hearing but is in the range of hearing of cats and dogs. Can you image hearing a high pitched humming sound all day long. It would be enough to drive you nuts! Many pet owners report that their cats or dogs do not want to be in rooms with CFL bulbs on and will become anxious if they are forced to be.

See the articles Don’t like CFLs? Ask your pet and CFL Bulbs: Save the Plant Make Your Pets Insane.

I ask you to consider alternatives to CFLs. In a few years the technology for LED lighting should be better and LEDs should be available for about the price of a normal bulb. LED bulbs last possibly forever (at least ten years or more) and use much less energy than CFLs. Most importantly they are safe! In the mean time keep your normal incandescent light bulbs. Even without taking the health effects of CFLs into consideration, we are going to have an environmental nightmare from the mercury in these light bulbs in a few years.

Also remember that if you break these light bulbs you need to be very cautious about how you go about cleaning up. You don’t need a full haz-mat team but some precautions are needed and make sure to get your animals and children out of the room immediately. Here’s the article on what you do and don’t need to do.

1/30/12 I have now began replacing some of my bulbs with LEDs. The prices are starting to come down and the quality is getting better. The light quality is still not what it is with the incandescent light bulbs but much better than the CFLs in my opinion. Spending $80 on three light bulbs today I felt a little silly but they are supposed to last over twenty years and use about $1.00 of electricity a year, so overall I think it is a win. Plus since there are many places in our home that require ladders to reach I am excited that this may be the last time up on a ladder for a long time. Happy light bulb hunting!

11/16/13 LEDs have now come down in price and there are even better options like this $10 light bulb Lighting EVER 7W A19 LED Bulb. They even now make LEDs that can replace traditional fluorescent tubes like this one, LEDwholesalers Brightest LED Tube Fluorescent Tube Replacement. I hope that we reach a day when CFLs are no longer made.

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12 Responses to “The danger of compact fluorescent lighting”

  1. Erika Feuer Says:

    Here I was thinking I did a good thing by replacing all my light bulbs with CFLs. I certainly will look into getting LCD lights. When I think about it I realize that CFls do flicker a lot and who knows what they do to us. They may affect each person or animal differently.

  2. Liza Says:

    Thanks so much for this article. I used to work under fluorescent lights and I was sick a lot. Now, every time I walk into a store with them, within 5 minutes I get a headache and red stingy eyes. I also lose ma ability to focus on the shopping task at hand. It also usually takes me the next day to recover and I get brain fog and fatigue. I will be getting some LEDs soon. Thanks for making me realize that I’m not crazy:)

  3. Tina Says:

    We definitely know that these bulbs can negatively affect our animal babies!

    After watching the video at this link – – my husband and I immediately took out all the CFLs we had installed in our house, and replaced them with incandescent bulbs.

    Here’s why: In the video a woman describes how her forehead became very warm many times, and she developed headaches after being exposed to CFLs. Doctors in the U.K. are now discussing the fact that CFLs may contribute to the onset of cancer.

    About 3 years ago, we began installing CFLs in our house. Soon after we did, our beloved dog, Teddy Bear, began to suddenly get very hot right between his eyes several times per week – we were puzzled, but we didn’t make any connection until we saw the video in December of 2008.

    Unfortunately, about 6 months after we installed the CFLs, Teddy developed a huge cancerous tumor on his neck, which we had removed. About a year later, the cancer returned – again we had it removed. In January of 2009, the cancer returned again. This time we decided not to operate, but are treating it with a device called the Eagle Guardian ( – the tumor is shrinking, and our Teddy seems to feel great – and, very significantly – since we removed the CFLs from the house, his forehead has not become hot even once.

    We believe these bulbs may very well have been responsible for his cancer. We shudder to think of what they could be doing to us, other people, and other people’s animals. We all need to deluge our government representatives with this information, and tell them we do not want to be forced to use these harmful CFLs if we don’t want to.

  4. Annee Says:

    Fluorescent lighting has always bothered me – headaches, etc., although I was okay with it in task lighting situations (short term exposure). So wanting to reduce my electric bill, I replaced most lighting in my home with CFLs. Six months later I took them all out, except in low use areas. Why? They gave me headaches and made me feel tense and jumpy. I have no idea why this happens, but it is comforting to know that others have had similar problems. Are there any studies being done on this?

  5. Lena Says:

    Hi Annee,
    I am not aware of any studies being done specifically on the CFLs. The studies linked to in the article are on regular fluorescent lighting. However they should also apply to CFLs since they are very similar. It certainly worries me that more and more people are switching to CFLs and makes it much more difficult for those of us that are sensitive to them.

  6. hector Says:

    I am also suffering from the headache,lack of freshness and irritation . I can’t say that this is because of use of CFL . I am daily expose 5 to 6 hours under CFL .

  7. shivaram Says:

    I too suffering from above problem since 2004 jan.

    Try avoid visiting Super market and shopping malls there most of the lights CFL in countless and low height
    Try to come at the earliest from those place for better health. If possible wear leather garment &cap/hat
    as extra skin protection

  8. sam Says:

    I suspect you have extrapolated from your experience with old tube florescents, which can be bad for any number of reasons (Europe has banned the Cool White bulbs that dominate the US market, for example, for the harsh color spectrum). The cycle rate of the old bulbs did create a flicker perceivable by many who might get headaches. But the high frequency of CF bulbs removes the headache inducing flicker. Complaining about CF is sort of like complaining about music CDs since the gentle analogue wave is cut up into about 44,000 step waves every second. Some do complain and insist upon vinyl instead of CDs. But I think if you really listened to your body, you’d find a big difference between old tube florescents and new CFs. Just like most people are fine with music CDs and really do prefer them over vinyl. CFs give a better light. But if animals can hear the transformers and are bothered by the sound, developers need to deal with this. Less than 1% of people can hear this high pitch, and it would be intolerable.

  9. Lena McCullough, DVM Says:

    Hi Sam,
    I actually get sick from both although I do admit the old fluorescent tubes are worse. That being said after 2 hours of CFL I also feel bad. I actually think the lighting from CFLs is very poor, IMO. I have started using some of the LEDs in our home and while I feel like the lighting is not great with those either they do not make me sick. Can’t wait until they perfect that technology.
    Thanks for your comments.
    best wishes,

  10. Michal Says:

    By that matter, I’m sure people would be helathier and sleep better without ANY artificial light. We can’t have that though society would collapse(that was sarcasm, sort of). Like everything civilization is a matter of compromise. That being said, people should be free to choose what sort of light bulbs they want to use. I like cfl’s, If someone else doesn’t they don’t have to use them, I hope.

  11. Michael Says:

    Since moving into my current house, I have had very bad ringing in my ears. The first thing I did after moving into this house was to replace all incandescent bulbs with cfl bulbs. Earlier today I was in my home office and hearing the ringing again. I got my flashlight and turned off the ceiling fixture. The noise was gone. Can I get an exemption from the CFL mandate? The light bar over my bathroom sink has also produced a loud noise with the CFL bulbs.

  12. Lena McCullough, DVM Says:

    Hi Michael,
    There is no mandate in the US about having to use CFLs although there is a phase out plan for incandescent bulbs, even that was recently extended. Hopefully in a few years all the CFLs will be replaced with LEDs and it will not be an issue. Even if incandescents are completely phased out (which will probably be some time still), you can always use LEDs which should not effect your health in a negative way.
    best wishes,