The Ban on Current Incandescent Light Bulbs

by Siegfried Othmer | July 31st, 2008


Go Green Light Bulb
The Lupus Foundation is one of a number of organizations concerned about the phase-out of incandescent light bulbs in favor of compact fluorescents (CFLs) in the wake of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that mandates higher lighting efficiency to be met by 2012-14. The new standard is a conversion efficiency of 70%.

The concern, apparently, is that UVB radiation from CFLs may cause photosensitivity in people with lupus and other conditions. Other organizations that are concerned about this issue include Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation, National Psoriasis Foundation, and the Epilepsy Foundation.

I believe this concern to be misguided. The problem most likely relates to the frequency characteristics of the fluorescent illumination, not to the UVB radiation. The effects, after all, can be turned on and off with the lights, which places suspicion on the direct effects of the modulated signal on our brain activity. Any supposed physiological effect of the UVB radiation would be expected to persist.

The problem is that we have fluorescent lights rather than phosphorescent ones. This means that the fluorescence is essentially instantaneous with the stimulation, so the light intensity of the bulb tracks the 60-cycle drive voltage closely. In people with sensitive nervous systems, that 60-cycle modulation can influence brain function.The straightforward answer is to convert the drive voltage to a higher frequency. Even 120 Hz probably places us safely out of range, and that is trivial to get from 60 Hz. But this is a remedy that can only be implemented at the manufacturing level. An even more forward-looking response—one that can be initiated by the end user—is to begin inserting white LEDs where the greatest need exists. These are still expensive, and are not yet commonly available, but if health and quality of life are at issue, then the case can readily be made.

This goes hand-in-hand with the arguments for energy conservation and for reducing our carbon footprint. The argument of lighting efficiency is often conducted in isolation. Consider, however, that all of the heat generated by an incandescent light bulb must ultimately be sluiced through an air conditioner if the building is cooled. Any inefficiency here costs us all over again a second time. The economics of energy efficiency, which strongly favor CFLs, favor white LEDs even more, despite the higher initial price.
Practitioners who are trying to avoid or minimize fluorescent lighting in their offices to accommodate their clients’ photic sensitivity would be well advised to consider chucking out their incandescents and moving into the energy future aggressively with white LEDs, and this holds in particular for the warmer climes.

One additional consideration in this regard is that local lighting may be all that is really needed. A treatment room need not be brilliantly illuminated. In my home office I just need enough lighting to see my keyboard, and that doesn’t take a 300W torchiere. So one might look for floor-standing or desk-standing lamps to fill the requirement in the treatment room. LEDs don’t cast their light as broadly as incandescents, so they may have to be placed somewhat strategically.

In the late seventies, when I was doing research on silicon solar cells, we were looking to the government to be the “first customer” to prime the market for large-scale photovoltaic power applications. In this day and age, we have to take the lead individually to begin to build the market for solid-state lighting. The argument is most compelling for the deployment of white LEDs in the treatment room, banishing both incandescents and CFLs.

Siegfried Othmer, Ph.D.

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


5 Responses to “The Ban on Current Incandescent Light Bulbs”

  1. Betsy Shor says:

    Another group often affected by fluorescent lights is those on the autistic spectrum. While LEDs seem like a good solution to some of the problems associated with fluorescent lights, particularly the 60 cycle problem, my son, who has Asperger Syndrome, and who had to be home-schooled in junior high and high school because of his sensitivity to fluorescent lights, points out that the light frequencies put out by LEDs are also problematic for him. It seems that they lack the appropriate color qualities. I don’t know how much of a problem this is for most people with fluorescent light sensitivity, or whether this is unique to him. Certainly LEDs have a number of advantages over fluorescent lights. It should also be noted that in areas without long cooling seasons, the heat emitted by incandescent bulbs simply contributes to the overall heating of the buildings, and replaces some of the heat otherwise needed from other sources. For the time being, one solution he suggests is the use of track lighting with multiple small bulbs. It seems that these will continue to be produced. Only bulbs with standard bases are being taken off the market.

  2. ADNF says:

    When we use a 60Hz electrosmog detector to evaluate the Electromagnetic Field (EMF) emitted by a fluorescent light, we can see that the field is about 3 times stronger or more than with a classical incandescent bulb (for same lighting power). This can be uncomfortable for people with a sensitive brain. Since the EMF is quickly reduced by distance, it is advised to not use those fluorescent bulbs close to your head (bedside or desk). 3 to 4 meters away from your head should be fine. As a neurofeedback practitioner, if the fluorescent bulb is close to the client’s head, you will see the 60Hz directly captured by the sensors or worse, captured by the client’s brain and then sent through the sensors.
    We are waiting for the fluorescent bulbs manufacturers to properly shield their bulbs. The idea of migrating the bulb frequency to 120Hz sounds interesting.

  3. In response to Betsy Shor on the sensitivity of autistic children to the spectrum of light emitted by fluorescents and LEDs: We are finding that many autistic children exhibit Irlen Syndrome, in which visual processing is adversely affected by certain spectral distributions of light. Interested readers are invited to read an extended newsletter I wrote on this topic in 2005, titled Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome (
    Whereas neurofeedback can be helpful with symptom severity in consequence of the Irlen Syndrome, it is best dealt with directly by shaping the spectral input to the eyes with colored lenses that are tailored to the person’s specific needs.

    Regarding track lighting: This is actually one of the best candidates for early conversion to LEDs. The light sources are small and intense, and they can be deployed near where the illumination is actually needed.

  4. In response to ADNF: All fluorescents come equipped with a ballast transformer for power conditioning, which is responsible for the high level of EMF emanating from these units. Because of the sensitivity of the EEG electronics to such interference, we have recommended against having fluorescents in the treatment rooms for a long time.

    Now we have the additional reason that the fluorescents can influence behavior directly, either via the pathway of optical modulation at 60 Hz or by way of EMF-induced perturbations of brain activity.

  5. Jeff Carmen writes:
    I think you may be correct about the 60Hz effects of long tube conventional fluorescent light sources. In fact, I am fairly certain that you are correct. I think, although I am not certain, that the compact bulbs run at rather high frequencies in the range of KHz. More specifically, Lupus appears to be activated by UV, possibly both A and B from the sun where frequency is not an issue. It is kind of typical for Lupus folks to just feel sick at the end of the day if they have been out too long in mid-day sun. They may or may not also show the traditional malar rash, and/or have a headache, but the nondescript “sick” feeling is very common. It is thought that excessive sun exposure may actually precipitate a flare. This is one of the differential diagnostic clues I use when determining whether a headache is migraine or inflammatory. Lupus headaches tend to feel like migraines but will rise and fall with disease activity and not with sudden drop in stress like migraines tend to.
    Jeff Carmen

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