VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Post on energy-saving light bulbs causing migraines and anxiety NEEDS CONTEXT

A nine-month-old blog post that has resurfaced on social media claims that compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), a type of energy-saving light bulb, cause migraine and anxiety. The report is out of context.

On June 3, several Facebook pages re-shared a Sept. 21, 2018 online post by blog thecampfirethoughts.com. It bore the title,

Huwag na Kayong Gumamit ng Ganitong Klaseng Light Bulb Dahil Nakakapagdulot ito ng Migraine at Anxiety (Don’t use this kind of light bulb anymore because it causes migraine and anxiety)!”

The report is a rehash in Filipino of older online posts that have made the rounds on the web as early as 2015. These posts claimed long-time use of CFLs causes “migraine, anxiety, irritability, headaches and blurred vision.”

Thecampfirethoughts.com’s post, which could have now reached over 18 million people, also said CFLs were harmful because they contain mercury and carcinogens, and supposedly emit ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Health risks associated with this type of energy-saving light bulb may affect those who already suffer from specific illnesses and not the general population, contrary to what the article implies.

On UV-related health risks

Fluorescent lamps, including CFLs, convert UV light into visible light.

The British Parliament’s House of Commons, in a 2010 briefing paper on CFLs, said UV emissions from the bulbs could “exceed recommended levels” at close proximity. However, it only potentially raises a risk to people suffering from light-sensitive illnesses.

The British lower house in its paper wrote that exposure to CFLs at less than one foot “could potentially be harmful to those suffering from conditions such as chronic actinic dermatitis and lupus” -- which are both photosensitive illnesses.

For the general population, however, exposure to UV light emitted by CFLs was “considered unlikely to pose a risk.”

The note came out after the Parliamentary of Science and Technology (POST) assessed the supposed health risks of CFLs raised by sufferers of light-sensitive lupus, epilepsy and migraine after the European Union (EU) in 2008 reached an agreement to phase out incandescent light bulbs and replace them with CFLs.

Flickering lighting, common to fluorescent lights such as CFLs, was also found to be “linked with conditions including eyestrain and headaches.”

To reduce the risks posed by CFLs to a “safe level,” POST recommended:

  • “moving the CFL away from people to a safe distance (>30 cm or 1 foot),
  • shading the bulb either physically to direct the UV light away from the user or with a filter to stop UV emissions, or
  • using a double-encapsulated bulb (A/N: enveloped in a second layer of glass).”

On CFLs containing mercury

Thecampfirethoughts.com also claimed that the mercury in CFLs could cause anxiety, among other illnesses.

While CFLs indeed contain mercury -- at five milligrams maximum per lightbulb in the EU -- the House of Commons paper cited one toxicologist as saying “it would be necessary to break five of the bulbs in a small unventilated room to be exposed to ‘short term danger.’”

In the Philippines, a 2008 GMA News Online story reported that CFLs in the country contain between two and six milligrams of mercury.

The House of Commons said the mercury in CFLs is a “very small amount” and “does not present a health problem in normal use.”

The British lower House instead advised consumers to separate the disposal of the bulbs from normal household waste, and required retailers to provide return and recycling facilities to safely dispose of CFLs.


(Editor's Note: VERA Files has partnered with Facebook to fight the spread of disinformation. Find out more about this partnership and our methodology.)

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