Incandescent lamps emit very little electromagnetic radiation. CFLs on the contrary emit radiofrequency radiation in the frequency range of 25 to 100 kilohertz (kHz).

Measurements by the independent French research centre CRIIREM show that CFLs generate powerful electromagnetic fields (EMF) close to the source, up to 1 meter distance (12). At a distance of 20 centimeters, radiation levels can be as high as 180 Volts per meter (!) Measurements by the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO) have confirmed these findings (13).

Visual representation of the electromagnetic field caused by energy saving lamps

CRIIREM therefore advises not to use energy saving lamps at too close a distance, for example, as desk lamps or as a reading lamp beside the bed (12). A ban on incandescent lamps, however, will result in more people using CFLs as desk or bed lamps, thereby exposing them to very high levels of EMF.

It is often said that these levels of EMF stay below the international exposure limits and that they are therefore safe. However, there is widespread criticism on these limits, which are considered to be much too lenient (14).

In addition to directly emitting radiation, there are indications that the EMFs emitted by CFLs can travel along the electrical wiring thereby exposing people to so-called ‘dirty electricity’ throughout the house. A study published in June 2008 in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine indicated that this dirty electricity can lead to a 5-fold increased risk of cancer (15). A harmful influence of dirty electricity has also been found in research done by the Canadian researcher Magda Havas (16).

Low voltage halogen lamps (12 V) can pose similar problems due to EMFs originating from the transformers. This is particularly the case with the pulsed radiation from “electronic transformers”, which can also contaminate the mains to give dirty electricity. Mains voltage halogen lamps (220 V) do not have this effect.

All in all, there has been very little research to date into the health effects of energy saving lamps and the EMFs they emit. Therefore some groups are arguing that this research should be done before incandescent lamps are banned.


(12)    ‘Mise en garde sur les ampoules à économie d’énergie’, press release 21/08/2007

(13)    Evaluation of the electric & magnetic fields of energy saving bulbs, G. Decat, G. Meynen, P. Van Tichelen, VITO, November 2007

(14)    See for example:

(15)    Milham, S. & Morgan, L.L. (2008), A new electromagnetic exposure metric: high frequency voltage transients associated with increased cancer incidence in teachers in a California school, Am J Ind Med., 51(8):579-86.

See also www.emfacts.com/weblog/?p=903

(16)    Havas, M. 2006. Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity: Biological effects of dirty electricity with emphasis on diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine, 25: 259-268, 2006


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