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Position Statement and Some Questions and Answers About Potential Health Effects and High Efficiency Lighting


As a result of Congressional legislation enacted in 1992 and more recently updated as EISA 2007, the US lighting industry is meeting a scheduled series of increased efficiency mandates for many of its products. While the initial mandates largely impacted commercial and industrial users, more recent mandates included in EISA 2007 are focused on products used in a typical household. The potential for confusion emerging from a bewildering array of opinions expressed in media articles, blogs, and websites regarding the elimination of some of the less efficient household lamps commonly used for generations has manifest itself in the mistaken impression that household consumers have fewer choices for household lighting, when in fact they have more choices than ever before. Some of these articles and web postings seem intent on promoting controversy by asserting that use of mandated more energy efficient alternatives to historical incandescent bulbs will result in serious health issues to consumers.

NEMA Position on the Phase Out of Traditional Low Efficiency Incandescent Bulbs

EISA 2007 does not ban incandescent light bulbs. Even though provisions of the act raise the minimum efficiency of incandescent bulbs such that the least efficient types will no longer be available to consumers, many incandescent bulbs continue to be available. Historically, when consumers purchased a specific wattage of light bulb (100W, 75W, 60W, and 40W types), they were actually purchasing a level of light output (brightness or lumens) that was associated with the wattage level. Higher wattages are associated with greater light output. The only change is that consumers will now be able to purchase the same desired level of light output at lower wattages resulting in energy and financial savings. Consumers will continue to have expanded lighting options that include energy-efficient advanced incandescent light bulbs utilizing halogen technology, compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs), and other new lighting technologies, such as light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs that will replace phased-out bulbs..

For years consumers have been moving to replace many of their traditional incandescent bulbs with CFLs since the use of higher efficiency bulbs generates substantially reduced electrical energy costs for households, and such products last significantly longer. So the move to phase out the least efficient high-use bulbs simply continues to move the nation in this direction.

For those consumers who, for various reasons, still prefer an incandescent option, such incandescent options will be available as halogen lamps. Advanced incandescent light bulbs with halogen technology will deliver the quality of light and functionality of traditional incandescent bulbs.

Manufacturers have worked hard to ensure that the more efficient CFL and LEDs will have characteristics that will be acceptable to consumers if they choose to save more energy.

The U.S. is not alone in this approach. Many nations are moving to adopt such mandatory provisions to save energy, reduce environmental impact, and increase national energy security.

NEMA Position on the Health Impact of High Efficiency Light Bulbs

Energy-efficient light bulbs manufactured or sold by all NEMA member companies are designed to meet all currently established health and safety requirements. These requirements, established in the form of various national and international product standards, are based on the currently accepted scientific consensus of experts in many fields, including electrical safety, optical safety, and any impact to health and safety. As with any set of requirements, the body of knowledge can always change as a result of valid, replicated, peer-reviewed scientific research. If future research indicates that certain health-related requirements should be revised, then relevant product standards and products will be revised. In the meantime, the use of such products by the general public, especially in households, should not be a cause for concern.

As with any subject that may involve human health, certain special exceptions are possible. For example, the relatively small portion of the population medically diagnosed with Lupus is advised by their healthcare providers to minimize exposure to sunlight and fluorescent lighting. For this population, high efficiency incandescent halogen and LED alternatives are available. They do not need to use CFLs or other types of fluorescent lighting in their homes.

Other health concerns raised are sometimes based on self-diagnosis by consumers, articles and web posts not authored by experts, or are based on an incomplete or biased reporting of scientific research that that may include a call for more research. This call for more research is often misconstrued as evidence that some purported health effect has been validated where a closer reading makes it clear the authors have not come to such a conclusion. Unfortunately, health related research is rarely straight forward and, as is often the case, may also reflect divergent views even among experts until sufficient data and evidence results in a clear consensus conclusion.

NEMA fully supports efforts by expert researchers and respected research organizations to study and investigate any areas that involve the interaction of electric lighting and the public. It is only with such research and through rigorous use of the scientific method that the results of such research can be broadly accepted and subsequently integrated into product specific requirements such as standards and regulations.

Answers to Questions Regarding Consumer Health Effects and Residential Lighting Options

Members of the NEMA Lighting Systems Division continue to monitor any new developments in the area of electric light and health. Since such discussions can be technically quite complex, in an effort to put this topic in perspective, the following questions and answers address some of the common concerns expressed by some consumers regarding newer types of lighting that will increasingly replace older, less efficient options.

Q: Are compact fluorescent lamps new?

Compact fluorescent lamps, also known as CFLs, are a type of fluorescent lighting; fluorescent lighting has been around since the 1940s. Tube-shaped linear fluorescent lamps have long been employed in business, schools, hospitals, and other commercial settings, as well as for household uses such as in garages, kitchens, and recreation rooms. Smaller, compact versions of fluorescent lamps (CFLs) first appeared in the 1980s and are now widely available as an alternative to incandescent lamps for both commercial and residential use. CFLs available today for consumers come in many different styles and wattages, and include both reflector and non-reflector bulbs. Some are dimmable, and many different color appearance options are now available to accommodate individual preference. Even before enactment of the current federal energy efficiency requirements, many consumers had already transitioned to CFLs in order to reduce their electrical energy costs and to minimize the environmental impact of electrical energy production. CFLs are now found in living spaces and many other high use residential applications.

Q: Do CFLs emit Ultraviolet (UV) radiation or electromagnetic radiation (EMF) and are these emissions harmful?

CFLs emit both types of energy, but at very acceptably low levels that meet all current requirements.

For more on this, see the following U.S. FDA website, and also a similar Health Canada website:

The detailed photobiological safety requirements that apply for lamps and lamp systems (including the technical basis for safety, measurement procedures, and labeling requirements) are contained in IESNA Standards RP 27.1, RP 27.2, and RP 27.3. These requirements include UV emissions. Electronic editions of these standards may be purchased at the following web site of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA). An active committee of experts maintains these standards and updates them when necessary.

Q: What if I am concerned about UV or have been diagnosed with Lupus or a similar UV sensitivity issue?

Always follow the recommendations of your healthcare professional. If you simply have a general concern without a medical diagnosis by a doctor, keep in mind that small amounts of UV are also encountered near windows and may also be present at very close distances even from some incandescent bulbs, especially halogen incandescent bulbs. The use of a normal shade on a table or floor lamp will greatly reduce or eliminate even the small level of UV from a CFL or halogen bulb. There are also CFL bulbs available today that contain a cover that will also reduce any UV emissions compared to uncovered spiral types.

Q: What about UV from LED bulbs?

General service LED bulbs used by consumers do not generate UV. Individuals diagnosed with UV sensitivity may want to consider using high efficiency incandescent bulbs or LED bulbs.

Q: Some people raise issues about EMFs? Should I be concerned?

All products that use electricity, especially from common 120V AC wall outlets, generate some electrical fields. Incandescent bulbs, CFLs, and LED bulbs are no exception. These fields are very low, especially compared to fields from other common products such as cell phones. While research continues on the entire subject of EMFs and human exposure, especially from products that are essentially radio transmitters, the medical community has not concluded that reports of electro-sensitivity to very low fields from other household products are proven. Incandescent bulbs produce small fields at the power line frequency of 60 Hz. CFLs produce small fields at power line and somewhat higher frequencies, but well below the frequencies used in cordless phones, wireless LANs, and cell phones. LED bulbs can generate some small fields similar to CFLs but some LED bulbs do not.

A recent study by Health Canada concludes that measured levels of EMF from CFLs are below any levels of concern. The same would also be true for LED bulbs and other typical household lighting products.

For a good discussion of EMF from CFLs see the Health Canada site at

Q: Some websites talk about flicker and headaches (including onset of migraines) from fluorescent lighting. Should I be concerned about CFLs causing headaches?

Fluorescent lighting (and even incandescent lighting) can produce a small but measureable (with sensitive equipment) fluctuation in light that is not perceived by the vast majority of individuals. A relatively few individuals claim to be sensitive to the small light fluctuation that can be present with some fluorescent lighting, including some that claim fluorescent lighting can trigger headaches. There is no generally accepted scientific or medical consensus that validates such a trigger either for headaches in general or very severe headaches such as migraines. Indeed, most experts admit there is still much that is not understood about how and why some people are susceptible to migraine headaches. Some researchers believe that migraine is the result of fundamental neurological abnormalities caused by genetic mutations at work in the brain.

For more on the general condition of migraine and what research is underway, see the following U.S. National Institutes of Health site:

It is accepted that some migraine sufferers are light sensitive once a migraine occurs. However, this is not equivalent to saying that fluorescent lighting or a minor fluctuation of the lighting has caused the migraine to initiate. As with many health symptoms, headaches, including migraines, can be initiated by a variety of causes, including stress, so always consult your medical professional regarding headaches and any possible steps you should take to avoid them, including what current research may be applicable.

For more on the general subject of light flicker and steps one can take to minimize any potential issues, see:

Q: Some blogs report that fluorescent lighting (especially CFLs) may trigger stomachaches, fatigue, eye strain, anxiety, and irritability. Some even say fluorescent lighting disrupts the immune system, making people sick.

One can find virtually any point of view or assertion on the internet, especially when it comes to health effects from any number of purported exposure risks. Such broad and unsubstantiated accusations typically confuse association and causation. An association occurs when two events may occur coincidentally without scientific evidence demonstrating that one has caused the other. Causation, as applied to large populations such as the general public, or all residential users, and especially as applied to health risks, demands a much higher standard of proof.  Acceptance of causation requires valid, scientific studies that are designed to eliminate any bias or confounding variables which might lead to an erroneous assignment of causation where in fact none exists.

If all of the issues listed above were scientifically proven and accepted by the majority of scientific and medical experts to be true, today’s doctors’ offices, medical and health centers, emergency rooms, hospital rooms, and patient recovery rooms would not be illuminated with modern high efficiency fluorescent lighting.

A recent finding by Health Canada, after considering similar reports by some individuals, concluded that CFLs are safe to use, and that more research is needed to understand if a few people may have certain sensitivities not found in the majority of people. Any concerns regarding such symptoms should always be discussed with a health care professional. 

For this discussion by Health Canada, see:

Q: What about “blue light”? Some reports say blue light or “light at night” causes cancer?

There is no evidence that exposure to electric lighting directly causes cancer. Uninformed discussions of this subject often confuse or distort current research in this area. An increasing number of experts, and the World Health Organization, believe that continued disruption of the normal sleep-wake cycle (called the circadian cycle) can result in health issues and is a probable risk factor for some types of cancer. (One example of such a disruption would include ongoing night shift work.) Our human visual response has evolved to associate blue light (at a particular wavelength and sufficient intensity) with daytime, when we should be alert and awake. Laboratory research indicates that sufficiently intense levels of this type of blue light at the eye can, at night, when one should otherwise be asleep, trick the pineal gland into reducing the amount of melatonin that would otherwise be secreted. Further laboratory research indicates that suppression of melatonin may increase the growth rate of certain cancerous tumors. Thus, some incorrectly jump to the conclusion that exposure to any light at night, or any blue light at night, represents a serious risk of cancer, without fully appreciating all the factors that are involved in such a relationship.

Research continues, but experts agree that too many Americans simply do not get a good night’s sleep or sufficient sleep, and this disruption of the sleep-wake cycle may prove to be an increasingly important health issue.

Clearly, the existing research in this area and other research into sleep disorders indicate the importance of orienting one’s lifestyle to achieve a consistent sleep-wake cycle. Individuals who have concerns regarding sleep issues should seek qualified medical assistance.

For a more complete discussion see:

Q: These are clearly complex topics. If I still have concerns, what should I do?

The typical consumer should not have health concerns about the energy-efficiency alternatives that will increasingly replace less efficient incandescent bulbs over the next several years. Lighting options will continue to be available that will satisfy the needs of all consumers. A small percentage of the consumer population has been diagnosed with UV or light sensitivity issues, and these consumers should continue to follow any recommendations provided by their doctors.


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