The most popular types of screw-in, energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs should not – as an “interim precautionary measure” – be closer than 30 centimeters from the body for more than one hour per day, the Health Ministry recommended on Tuesday.
In addition, there are some 1,000 Israelis with the autoimmune disease lupus erythematosus who are very sensitive to natural ultraviolet (UV) light from both the sun and screw-in fluorescent bulbs, and should not use these bulbs at all, just to be safe. However, encapsulated “single envelope” screw-in fluorescent bulbs, which resemble a mushroom and do not consist of coils, can be used freely without restriction.
The ministry based its recommendations on the UK Health Protection Agency, which has studied the matter seriously and issued precautionary advice a year ago.
It said that compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) can emit both the B and A type of ultraviolet light, which when above a certain limit can trigger melanoma skin cancer as well as basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma of the skin; melanoma has higher death rates than the other types.
The fact that UVA and UVB emitted by standard CFLs can pose a health danger has been known for a decade, but environmental health agencies and experts have not issued official recommendations until recently.
In addition to the skin cancer threat from close and frequent exposure, the non-encapsulated bulbs vibrate at 100 Hz, which may cause over sensitivity in the side field of vision of the eye in a small fraction of people who look directly at them, the ministry said.
The US Food and Drug Administration has mentioned the “need for attention” to the bulbs, but it has not issued an official position or adopted the British guidelines. The European Union has also “discussed” the issue in its papers, but has not made any recommendations.
The ministry concluded that just in case, people with lupus should not use or look at non-encapsulated CFLs and that everyone else who is exposed to them for more than one hour in 24 hours should switch to encapsulated ones or stay a minimum of 30 cm. away from the conventional ones.