Down side of energy efficient fluorescent bulbs

  • Teacher Marianne Campbell talks with student Chase Field, 14, about doing his reading at New Horizon School in Santa Rosa, California on Monday, January 24, 2011. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

Ann Scalapino never leaves home without an incandescent light bulb tucked into her purse. She suffers from migraines that she believes are triggered by fluorescent lights, so when she visits friends who use the energy-efficient bulbs in their homes, she asks them to replace them while she visits.

But now that traditional incandescent light bulbs are being phased out as California leads the nation in adopting stricter energy efficiency standards, Scalapino is one of a committed group of incandescent light bulb lovers who are buying them in droves.

The new federal regulations, which went into effect on Jan. 1 in California, require a traditional 100-watt incandescent bulb to produce the same amount of light using 28 percent less electricity than it did before. Bottom line: the traditional light bulb as we know it will soon be obsolete.

They will be sold as long as existing stocks last.

Migraines are not the only health impact associated with fluorescent lighting. There are concerns that the small amount of mercury in the bulbs or tubes can be released as a vapor if a bulb breaks. Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) are supposed to be disposed of as toxic waste, but only about 5 percent of consumers do so, said Heidi Sanborn, executive director of the California Product Stewardship Council.

Still others, including Linda Berg in Sebastopol, are concerned that flourescent lighting emits a dangerous radio frequency. She said she plans to start a support group for people who are "electrosensitive" and react to cell phones, CFLs or computers with skin issues, fatigue or heart problems.

Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, introduced light bulb legislation in California that he said paved the way for the federal lighting standards. He thinks concern may be overblown.

"This whole issue is probably a tempest in a teapot, because no one is saying you have to buy fluorescent bulbs," Huffman said. "Anyone who just doesn't like fluorescent lights, or thinks that they're transporting conspiracy signals from the government or whatever, can just buy a different kind of light."

There are alternatives on the market that meet the new efficiency regulations, including halogen incandescent lights, CFLs and light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

But fluorescent lighting opponents fear that the popular CFLs will proliferate once the old fashioned bulbs are phased out, because they are more efficient than some alternatives and less expensive than LEDs.<NO1><NO>

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