The Montreal Gazette
Compact fluorescents may be a health menace
BY ALBERT NERENBERG, FREELANCE SEPTEMBER 24, 2010
If there’s a symbol for mainstream green fever, it’s the compact fluorescent light bulb. These intense white fluorescent lights are now just about everywhere. You may be reading this column with the help of one.
So it may come as a surprise that these “eco-friendly” miracle bulbs might be a menace -allegedly causing a host of health issues for some people. It’s a story coming in from the fringes first exposed by Global TV’s investigative team 16:9 and spreading quickly across social media. The implications are naturally huge.
Yes, we were all told to go out and buy compact fluorescents to fight climate change, save the environment and electricity. We did as we were told by governments and “green experts,” particularly CBC’s David Suzuki, who appeared everywhere holding one. We may soon have a new place for Mr. Suzuki to stick them.
Trent University’s Magda Havas, an associate professor of environmental and resource studies, is sitting on a potential powder keg. Her research focuses on “dirty energy,” and she claims these light bulbs are fonts of it. She claims that the new “green” bulbs emit ultraviolet light and intense fields of constantly changing electromagnetic “dirty” radiation. The basic research is not that complicated. You can measure the radiation easily with an oscilloscope, and it’s clear the new bulbs put out lots of electromagnetic noise compared to the old ones. The question is, is that bad for you? And according to Havas, that’s a solid yes.
The current confusion around the issue may be explained by the fact that some people are extremely sensitive and some are not. There are reports of people who get rashes, headaches and in rare cases are “knocked down” by light from these bulbs, while for many others there’s no issue at all. The question is: Are the “sensitive” the canaries in a coal mine? And will all of us get sick in time? While there is some debate about the cause, in the years since the bulbs proliferated people have been showing up at doctors’ offices with migraines, dizziness, rashes and something called brain fog.
“Remember we are electrical beings,” Havas says.
The anecdotal evidence is compelling, she says, because when people remove the bulbs, the symptoms often disappear. There was already a fuss about how these bulbs contain enough mercury to make authorities suggest you should never dispose of them yourself. But the intensity of the radiation is surprising.
“The waveforms are horrendous,” Havas said in an interview. “What is totally novel, we had no idea it affected human health. No one checked.”
Ottawa plans to ban the sale of incandescents in 2012. So if the new bulbs are dangerous, we’re in a fix.
While we’re probably going to be treated to an intense debate about these bulbs in the near future, I believe the issue will expose an even larger one. We’re still fumbling in the dark when it comes to developing genuine eco-improving technology, and there may be a shocking reason for that: We’re not really trying. While I believe the public imagines there is a massive research and development effort to avert environmental disaster, that is not really the case.
This message comes from the original climate change denier, Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist. The Guardian newspaper caused a stir last month when it reported Lomborg had suddenly “changed his tune.”
Lomborg, a professor at the Copenhagen Business School, became a darling of anti-environmentalists everywhere with his statistics-based attacks on environmental panic and climate change fears.
Lomborg, it seems, has now decided that climate change is a major problem, one that could be solved by investing $100 billion annually in a monster international research and development effort to find effective energy alternatives. But surely we’re already doing something like that, given the gravity of the issue?
“Not at all,” says Lomborg in an interview. Most governments are doing what Ottawa is doing, close to nothing. Most climate change solutions involve wrestling with carbon emissions, taxing schemes and disincentives for CO2 pollution.
“Instead of making fossil fuels expensive,” he said, “we should be finding ways to make green energy cheap.”
Lomborg, who says he has always believed in climate change, says he is trying to represent “the sensible middle.” He believes the major effort should go into finding solutions, not controls and regulations. While he might be trying to sell books, he might also have a point.
If compact fluorescents are any indication, the research side of green technology is feeble, profit driven and short-sighted. And believing that industry, government and green gurus will take care of things may be a glaring mistake.
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