Robrt L. Pela

Light not-so-bright

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It’s not enough that light bulbs have recently gone from having a light-bulb shape to looking like glass and metal soft-serve cones. Now they’re dangerous, besides.

In August, researchers from the State University of New York at Stony Brook proved that defects in the new, compact fluorescent light bulbs that are all the rage can allow skin damaging, cancer causing UV light to penetrate our epidermis. The news, just published in a trade journal called Photochemistry and Photobiology, is based on preliminary lab experiments, so no physician-documented cases of sunburn from light bulbs have surfaced yet. Certainly, any minute now, some for-profit national light bulb league will hold a press conference to point out that avoiding the dangerous rays from these new bulbs is as easy as keeping them behind glass or not getting too close to them. But … still.

Recent news stories about the dangers of exposure to broken UV light bulbs (which contain mercury vapor, an element that emits UV rays when hit with electrical current) haven’t helped matters, either. And, while Americans love to adhere to new, ecofriendly federal efficiency standards (“going green” is still trending), light bulbs that are hazardous to your health seems like a 1950s thing, not an early 20th century thing. The science is definitely space-age; those UV rays are absorbed by a layer of phosphors on the inside of the bulb and, so long as they remain contained, appear as safe, “white” light. But if the phosphor coating is compromised, UV light can escape. According to the Stony Brook scientists, nearly every light bulb they used in their studies showed some kind of defect.

The report suggests that the manufacturing process is at fault. When the new, swirly light bulbs are twisted into that funny spiral shape, the phosphor, which is quite fragile, is compromised.

All this probably means one of two things: either light bulbs are going to go back to their old shape, or, we’re all going to have to start wearing year-round sunscreen indoors. 

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