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  5. Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) – Fact Sheet/FAQ
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Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) – Fact Sheet/FAQ

What are compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs)?

CFLs are a type of fluorescent lamp. Many models of CFLs are available that are designed to replace traditional incandescent bulbs. The compact size of these CFLs allows them to fit into many existing incandescent light fixtures, including table and floor lamps commonly found in households. CFLs are very energy efficient, using approximately one quarter of the energy compared to traditional incandescent bulbs. CFLs also have a very long lifespan, typically 6000- 15,000 hours compared to the 750-1,000 hours for a normal incandescent bulb.

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Does FDA regulate compact fluorescent lamps?

Fluorescent lamps, including CFLs, are electronic products subject to Section 532 of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Section 532 of the Act authorizes FDA to establish and carry out an electronic product radiation control program designed to protect the public health and safety from radiation that may be emitted from electronic products, such as the UV that may be emitted from CFLs.

Although FDA regulates CFLs under the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 21 Part 1000, there are currently no specific standards or annual reporting requirements for CFLs. Manufacturers of CFLs are subject to CFR 21 part 1002.20, which requires CFL manufacturers to report accidental radiation incidents should any occur. In addition, CFR part 1003.10 requires manufacturers to notify FDA in the event of a product defect or failure which would result in an accidental exposure incident.

The vast majority of products of concern to the FDA are capable of emitting significant levels of radiation, such as X-ray equipment or skin tanning lamps but CFLs do not fall into this area.

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Do CFLs emit UV?

All fluorescent lamps emit some UV. Typical fluorescent lamps, including CFLs, which consumers would encounter, emit very low levels of UV. In order to measure any UV radiation from these lamps, very sensitive measuring equipment must be used.

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What is the wavelength range of the light radiation that is emitted by CFLs?

Since CFLs are designed to provide general illumination, the majority of the light emitted by CFLs is localized to the visible region of the spectrum (approximately 400-700 nm in wavelength). In addition, typical CFLs emit a small amount of UVB (280-315 nm), UVA (315-400 nm) and infrared (> 700 nm) radiation.

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How do I know that the level of UV is acceptably low from a CFL?

The Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) has published a series of standards relating to radiation emissions from general purpose lighting. If a CFL were to exceed allowable levels of UV (according to IESNA RP 27.3), its packaging would be required to be labeled with a caution label. This standard, which was developed with the assistance of the FDA, requires lamp manufacturers to provide a suitable caution if one is needed. At typical use distances, UV levels from CFLs fall below the level of general concern for normal, healthy individuals and therefore carry no such warning.

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How close can we safely get to an operating CFL?

Unless you are one of the few individuals who have a medical condition (such as some forms of Lupus) that makes you particularly sensitive to either UV or even visible light, you should be able to use these lamps at the same distance as you would use traditional incandescent lamps. However, a recent study from the United Kingdom Health Protection Agency has found that there are measureable levels of UV from single envelope CFLs when used at distances closer than 1 foot. As a precaution, it is recommended that these types of CFLs not be used at distances closer than 1 foot, for more than one hour per day.

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How do I know if I am particularly sensitive to either UV or visible light?

Only your physician can make such a diagnosis. The vast majority of people do not suffer from such UV or visible light sensitivities.

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Are there precautions I can take to reduce the small levels of UV from CFLs still further if I should wish to do so?

The glass used in CFLs already provides a UV filtering effect. In addition, any additional glass, or plastic, or fabric used in lighting fixtures that is between you and the CFL will further reduce the already low levels to still lower levels since these materials act as additional UV filters. Increasing the distance between you and any radiation source, including CFLs, will also reduce the small level to a lower level.

However, if you still wish to take additional steps then you might wish to purchase the type of CFL that has an additional glass or plastic cover that enclosed the CFL to make it appear more like a traditional incandescent lamp. These covers provide an additional reduction of the low level of UV to a lower level.

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Any other safety concerns? I have heard CFLs contain mercury. Should I be concerned?

Like traditional tube-style fluorescent lamps, CFLs contain a small amount of mercury. It is the use of this small amount of mercury that allows any fluorescent lamp to produce visible illumination at much higher efficiency levels than incandescent lighting. Typical household CFLs contain less than 5 mg of mercury, which is a sphere about the size of the tip of a pen. CFLs do not emit mercury as they operate. The only way mercury could be emitted from a CFL would be if the outer glass tubing that contains the mercury were to break.

Care should be taken not to break a CFL. If you break one, you should carefully clean up the entire residue according to EPA instructions that you can find at http://www.epa.gov/mercury/spills/index.htm

What about other potential adverse health effects from CFLs? I have seen some claims that CFLs cause headaches in some people. Is this true?

The vast majority of CFL users, both in households and in commercial buildings, report no issues regarding CFL usage, including headaches. There are some anecdotal reports, however, and, although there is yet no research to directly explain any plausible causative mechanism, it may be possible that some people are susceptible to such headache effects just as some people claim to be annoyed by normal fluorescent lighting. However, the overwhelming numbers of people that use CFLs report no such negative effects. FDA expects that research in this area will continue, and, as any new information develops, it will be included in a updated FAQ.

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