Guess what? Those LED bulbs aren’t so safe after all.

Posted on February 10, 2011

Tell me again what’s so bad about the traditional incandescent light bulb?

After discovering the new “curly-q” compact flourescent bulbs contain mercury, LED bulbs looked like an even better alternative to incandescents for those who worship all things green.  But alas, they seem to have their own issues as well:

The LED bulbs sold as safe and eco-friendly can contain high levels of lead, arsenic and other hazardous substances, a new UC Irvine study shows — the same bulbs widely used in headlights, traffic lights, even holiday lights.

The toxic material could increase the risk of cancer, kidney disease and other illnesses, although the risks are more long-term than immediate; a single exposure to a broken bulb is unlikely to cause illness.

“I wouldn’t worry about an immediate release of vapor,” said UC Irvine public health and social ecology professor Oladele Ogunseitan, principal investigator and an author of the study. “But still, when these residues hang around the house, if not cleaned up properly they could constitute an eventual danger.”

The lights should be treated as hazardous materials, and should not be disposed of in regular landfill trash, he said, because of the risk of leaching into soil and groundwater.

High intensity, red bulbs contained the most arsenic, while low-intensity red lights harbored as much as eight times the amount of lead permitted by state law, the study showed.

White bulbs had low amounts of lead but higher amounts of nickel, also a potentially hazardous substance.


Although immediate risk from a broken bulb is low, Ogunseitan still advises consumers to wear a mask and gloves and use a special broom when sweeping up the pieces. Emergency crews also should use protective equipment when dealing with car crashes and broken traffic lights, and should consider the material hazardous waste, Ogunseitan said.

And while LED or light-emitting diode bulbs are marketed as a safer replacement for compact fluorescent bulbs, which contain mercury, Ogunseitan, also a member of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control’s “green ribbon” science panel, said consumers should be careful that they’re not “exchanging one risk for another.”

 The environmentalists can keep their CFL’s and their LED’s. I’ll stay huddled around my incandescents which not only provide me light but emit heat as well. With the record low temps we’re having  (thanks to global warming don’tcha know), that little bit of extra heat from my incandescents is a good thing.

Posted in: Energy, Environment