Why are CFLs to avoid?



Development of some arguments against CFLs

The principal incentive to convince people to buy CFLs is "profit"! This is only one side of the picture. Let us disclose the full truth.

  • Exposure to mercury has to be avoided at any price!
    • Exposure to environmental Hg is believed to have a number of potential negative effects on human health, including these:
      1. cognitive deficits (e.g., reduced IQ) in children due to fetal exposure and in adults exposed to high concentrations of Hg vapors; and possibly
      2. increases in fatal and non-fatal heart attacks; and
      3. increases in premature death (i.e., some studies link Hg exposures to increased risk of premature mortality regardless of cause).

      (...) while fetal exposures are relatively well studied (although uncertainties remain), the dose-response functions for health effects resulting from chronic exposure in adults, such as cardiovascular disease, remain uncertain. (UNEP_cost_benefit2008, p. 104)

    • The economic value of reducing Hg pollution has seldom been quantified for wildlife and ecosystem functioning.(Ibid., p. 97) UNEP estimates that every kilogramme of mercury taken out of the environment can trigger up to $12,500 worth of social, environmental and human health benefits. (UNEP )
    • The associated environmental and social costs are called externalities and have to be factored in the product price. However, the economic valuation methods of these externalities do not always work well. E.g.: How to value Hg contamination of subsistence fishing communities with no practical dietary substitutes for Hg-contaminated fish. (UNEP_cost_benefit2008, p. 97) [Externalities: when a decision (for example, to pollute the atmosphere) causes costs or benefits to individuals or groups other than the person making the decision. In other words, the decision-maker does not bear all of the costs.]
    • In industrialized societies, although Hg was once a component in many products, it is now viewed as a material for which the risks of use generally outweigh the benefits. (...) Hg-free substitutes are now viable for nearly all uses. UNEP calls energy-efficient lighting a notable exception. We disagree with this position because regarding CFLs, several mercury free substitutes exist: incandescent bulbs, halogen lamps and LED (downlight) lamps. In most developed countries, CFLs are emitting more mercury than they can reduce by their energy-efficiency. In Brazil, only CFLs emit mercury, because 80% of the electricity is produced by hydro power, without emitting one mg of mercury.
    • Moreover, the following externalities have to be factored in.
      • The processing of cinnabar is associated with elevated atmospheric Hg emissions. Some reopened mercury mines in China have ruined the environment and the health of people: dead rivers, poisoned fields and ailing inhabitants.
      • Any manufacturing process that employs Hg will produce Hg vapor that potentially exposes the worker. (UNEP_cost_benefit2008, p. 115) In a CFL factory in China, 121 out of 123 employees had excessive mercury levels. One manís level was 150 times the accepted standard. (Source: The Times on line, May 3, 2009)
      • Broken CFLs emit noxious gasses and particles, especially dangerous to children.
      • Once in a landfill, mercury in broken lamps gets digested by microbes and emitted as methyl mercury which will then be washed out through run off water and thence into the ecosystem.
      • During the recycling process, the distillation requires a substantial amount of energy. If the electricity is supplied by coal fired sources, a new emission of mercury will take place.
    • "Mercury: Time to Act": More information.
    • 13 - 18 January 2013: Over 140 governments meeting at a United Nations forum in Geneva have agreed to a global, legally-binding treaty to address mercury, a notorious heavy metal with significant health and environmental effects. More information
  • Harmful UV light radiation See Health effects
  • CFLs can emit toxic substances, such as phenol, naphthalene, styrene. Other emitted substances are irritating: toluene, xylene and aldehydes. The answer of some official person was that in a real living or working place, the trouble was negligibly small and would not be a health risk. But can these lamps stil be used as desk lamp? More information and also.
  • CFLs can overheat and cause smoke and discoloration. Of course, in that case, the lamp has to be removed immediately. The odour is unbearable and can last one week (this is what an acquaintance said from experience)! But it can be more more dangerous if nobody is in the room when the lamp is emitting toxic vapours and makes the room unfit for living during several weeks! Report.
  • The heat replacement effect. EPA asserts: ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs use up to 75 percent less energy (electricity) than incandescent light bulbs. Our answer: In electrically heated buildings, the lack of heat from CFLs is replaced by electric heat from the heating system, so not a single kWh is "saved" in electrically heated buildings in winter. In buildings heated by fossil fuels such as oil and gas, the cost of the additional gas or oil in winter reduces the perceived "savings" from lighting that is "more efficient".
  • CO2 emissions. Will saving electricity by CFLs reduce CO2 emissions? If one factors in all used energy costs, little gain is made. The efficiency gain is largely the consequence of less production of "waste heat" (printers produce heat, etc.). This reduction in "waste heat production" in offices, leads to some increase in heat demand in these offices and therefore to more demand for gas. This results, according to the above ECN data, to an increase in emissions [of CO2] of 0.05 Megaton in 2020." (Own translation) (Letter from Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving to Ministerie van Infrastructuur en Milieu (31 May 2011) ( ECN: Energieonderzoek Centrum Nederland (Energy research Centre Netherlands)). If politicians are so eager to reduce CO2, then they should not use fossil fuels for the production of electricity.
  • Freedom of choice. I firmly believe that the restrictions put on incandescent lamps will have a significant negative impact on almost every residence in our country. I believe how one lives in their home is a decision that rests with the occupant and is not the purview of the government. I believe this violates the very principles upon which this nation was founded and I, as a devoted citizen, am most proud of, our freedom of choice in our personal lives. (Howard M. Brandston)
  • Ethical objection. It speaks of a violated sense of values when states or manufacturers recommend a certain type of lamp that is only efficient, regarding the environmental impacts, in a situation with a huge mercury emission by the power plants. Many of us cannot find themselves in this reasoning and want a world without mercury, especially concerning the lighting of our households. This is an clear ethical objection against the use of CFLs.
  • Cradle to cradle. In their book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, the architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart suggest that every product (and all packaging they require) should have a complete "closed-loop" cycle mapped out for each component - a way in which every component will either return to the natural ecosystem through biodegradation or be recycled indefinitely. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recycling) Mercury is spilled during different phases of the production, use and after burning out of CFLs. This is not consistent with the Cradle to Cradle principles.
  • Sustainability. A good summary about this topic can be found here. "Notice how all the mentioned factors mentioned come together. Easily locally made simple products with less energy and emissions and if need be long lasting without recycling requirement, compared to complex rare earth mineral using patented alternatives that are less easily locally made and involve more mining, manufacturing processes, transport emissions (remembering also transport of component parts to manufacture), and recycling - when they are not dumped, giving described problems such as with CFL mercury."
  • Failure to appreciate the quality of light. When we compare the position of the industry towards sound and light, we see a clear but incomprehensible difference.
    • Regarding sound reproduction, no trouble or expense is spared to please the customer. A wide range of frequencies are reproduced without any shortcoming using a Hi-Fi Stereo Sound System with a variety of loudspeakers such as subwoofers (to fill out the low frequencies).
    • But regarding light, the "Low Fidelity" lamp which reproduces only a few colors of the spectrum seems to be good enough! Only two lamps exist which give the full color rendering: the incandescent light bulb and the halogen lamp. Now, the incandescent light bulb, whose light is very near to the light of the setting sun and gives the best results regarding color, has been banned! The halogen lamp seems to be meet the same fate. CFLs lack the orange and red colors. LEDs are not colourfast and much of them show a too high proportion of the blue color. Even worse, these lamps are dangerous! CFLs use mercury, which has the effect to emit UV radiation, and LEDs are known for their blue light hazard, glare, flicker and deregulating the biological clock. Both lamps are using expensive rare earth metals. Future generations will ask why it was necessary to use these metals to reproduce light and why the administrators of some countries were so barbarous to ban the best lamps.

Question: Why do you propose only a ban on CFLs and not a ban on all mercury containing fluorescent lamps?

Answer: Because two conditions have to be fulfilled to enforce a ban:

  1. The mercury content of a lamp;
  2. Alternatives must exist for the lamp.
Mercury containing lamps Mercury free alternatives Ban?
HID lamps No affordable alternatives are available. No ban
Fluorescent tubes Linear LED-lamps, but these are very expensive No ban
CFLs 1. Incandescent bulbs, 2. New halogen lamps, 3. LED Lamps, 4. LED Downlight Lamps A ban is needed to save the environment and the health.

Remark: It is very important to stress that CFLs and LEDs produce a different type of light in comparison with incandescent light. So, they cannot be called 'substitute products'! The ban on incandescent light bulbs has led to a very reduced choice of light products. More information

Certainly, other arguments can be added. But one thing is clear: the risks of production, use and after burning out outweigh largely the benefits. In 2005, about 18-20 tons of mercury was needed to produce CFLs. Most of this mercury will pollute the environment. Quick gains can be made by implementing a ban on CFLs. How long will the governments still tolerate this noxious waste of mercury?

Interesting video: You Tube "not so free light bulbs". The film ends with these words: Do you really think these things [CFLs] are saving you money? In the long run counts just the health cost. My final point is that CFLs are toxic during their manufacture, toxic during their use and toxic after their disposal. I spent about eight dollars per year on electricity for lights. All of my lights are incandescent. When used in places where the lights are not on very long, I think incandescent lights cost much less. When used in places where the lights are left on a long time I think the margin is narrower but the incandescent is still cheaper. Besides I like the quality of light better from the incandescent and I think they're better for the environment.

Summary of some tests of CFLs
Country/Test issued by the consumer organisation Year of the test lamp life tested during the number of hours: Number of lamps lost on a total of Percentage of lamps lost Percentage of lamp models not reaching the number of hours Source
Sweden/Råd & Rön 09/2009 6 000 hours 34 on a total of 65 52% 10 on 13 or 77% greenwashinglamps.wordpress.com
Germany/ÖKO-TEST 11/2009 Number of hours indicated on the packaging (5 000 to 12 000) 21 on a total of 32 66% ? on a total of 16 models ÖKO-TEST November 2009
Sweden/Råd & Rön 10/2011 5 000 hours 36 on a total of 250 14% 18 on 50 or 36% greenwashinglamps.wordpress.com
Sweden/Råd & Rön 04/2012 5 000 hours 16 on a total of 110 15% 8 on 22 or 36% greenwashinglamps.wordpress.com
France/UFC Que Choisir 05/2012 5 000 hours 41 on a total of 145 28% 19 on a total of 29 or 66% UFC Que Choisir, mai 2012, p. 20-24
Belgium/Test-Aankoop Test-Achats 06/2012 5 000 hours ? ? 6 on a total of 13 or 46% www.test-aankoop.be

Conclusion of the tests: CFLs cost more than incandescent light bulbs because the manufacturers promise thousands of hours of additional use. Therefore, these lamps are called 'energy saving bulbs' and should let you save money. But the tests let us see another story: long warm-up times, (much) shorter life time than indicated on the packaging and a substantial loss of light. For the environment and the health, these lamps are a disaster. The manufacturers have had enough time to improve the performances of CFLs. CFLs don't meet the criteria of a reliable product.

According to the EC, in case of misleading claims on the packaging, the Member States' authorities have to take their responsibility. So far, the Member States have not notified any decision to the Commission relating to possible non-compliance of compact fluorescent lamps with the requirements of Commission Regulation (EC) No 244/2009. Nor has the Commission been informed of any Member State action under Directive 2005/29/EC in relation to exaggerated claims on the packaging of lamps. In the case that the Commission received information by an enforcement body in a Member State about non-compliance of a product, it would take the appropriate measures according to Article 7 of Directive 2009/125/EC. (See answer given by Mr Oettinger to the question (11 March 2010) of MEP Satu Hassi)

Art. 7 has this excerpt: Where non-compliance continues, the Member State shall take a decision restricting or prohibiting the placing on the market and/or putting into service of the product in question or ensure that it is withdrawn from the market.

The lamp survival factor (after 6 000 hours) for CFLs has to be larger than 0.50 from September 2009 on, and larger than 0.70 from September 2013 on (regulation No 244/2009). But how do the manufacturers react against the allegations of the consumer organizations? Their answer is: one has to do the test with 20 lamps and not with 5 (UFC Que Choisir, mai 2012). The result of the test is in accordance with the requirements if 50% of the lamps reach the level of 6 000 hours. Who will afford such expensive tests? And if a model would not comply with the prescriptions, one model among the hundreds others of the same company will be taken out of circulation. The agreement that the lamp manufacturers have reached with the European Union is a very good instrument to secure their profits.

This means that the purchase of a CFL is a lottery. If the standard imposed by the EC should be met, one of two CFLs does not meet the requirements. The tests of the consumer organizations let see that even this minimum is not met. This is in clear contradiction with the justified wishes of the consumers: each product has to fulfill the minimal requirements. It is a shame that the EC has approved this course of action in our twenty-first century!

Time has come to take actions:

  • there is a significant negative impact on the functionality of the product, from the perspective of the user;
  • health, safety and environment is adversely affected;
  • there is a significant negative impact on consumers in particular as regards the affordability and the life-cycle cost of the product.

New alarming results:

  1. Which?, December 2014:
    • Started in 2012, 410 LED light bulb samples were tested for 10,000 hours or more: 75 of those failed (18%) within 10,000 hours though they all claim to last much longer.
    • 185 of those 410 bulbs were tested for a longer period - all of the bulbs claimed to last 15,000 hours, but 69 (37%) had failed by that point.
    But the failure rate in newer LED bulbs is much lower.
  2. The great LED lightbulb rip-off: One in four expensive 'long-life' bulbs doesn't last anything like as long as the makers claim, Daily Mail, 26 January 2014

    • Consumer group Which? tested 46 types of light bulb for endurance
    • More than a quarter did not meet claims of a 15,000-hour life
    • Disappointing result comes despite claims of them lasting 25,000 hours
    • Some even fell below the legal minimum of 6,000 hours

    According to Commission Regulation (EU) No 1194/2012 of 12 December 2012, from 1 March 2014 on, 90% of any batch of LED bulbs should last at least 6,000 hours. But five types from the 46 tested types stopped working before 6,000 hours!

The only right decision: LEDs are still unreliable. CFLs should be taken out of circulation and incandescent light bulbs should be allowed on the market again as long as no reliable substitute is available.

The incandescent light bulb is unequalled and has to be available to the consumers:

  • The Colour Rendering Index (CRI) is 100. CRI tells you how accurately colors appear under the bulb's light.
  • The Power Factor (PF) is 1. There is only real power, no extra "power" to compensate for a power factor less than 1.0.
  • The color is about 2700K (warm yellowish light).

The EU - from 1 September 2013 on - has lowered the CRI and PF requirements for CFLs and LEDs (household lighting) to:


  • CRI: ≥ 80 (exception directional CFLs: only ≥ 65 if the lamp is intended for outdoor)
  • PF for CFLs with integrated gear control: ≥ 0.5 if the power is < 25W;
  • PF is ≥ 0.9 if the power is ≥ 25W.

For LED lamps (Commission Regulation (EU) No 1194/2012 of 12 December 2012)

  • CRI: ≥ 80 (exception: only ≥ 65 if the lamp is intended for outdoor)
  • Power ≤ 2W: no requirement
  • Power between 2W and ≤ 5W: PF > 0.4
  • Power between 5W and ≤ 25W: PF > 0.5
  • Power > 25W: PF > 0.9

Let us compare this with some recent lamps:

Brand and type CRI Power Factor Color Temperature Source
Philips MASTER LED Bulb D 13-75W E27 80 0.7 - 2700 K Philips
GE Soft White Spiral® T3 (CFL) 82 0.6 2700 K GE

More information: Greener Lights?

Around 1878 Edison began to develop a practical incandescent light bulb with an excellent quality of light. Now, 135 years later, we are deprived from the most famous lamp with the best quality of light (CRI = 1.). We have to endure a poor light quality and a poor power quality - endangering the distribution system and devices operating on the system. The rights of consumer are severely damaged! It's outrageous!


CatsPolitics A CFL bulb in our kitchen just caught fire. The base melted. Going out to buy some incandescents to replace all CFLs in our home.

Interesting links


Last update January 1, 2015