New “eco-friendly” lights contain toxic metals

We already know that CFL bulbs contain small amounts of mercury, a highly toxic metal. The amounts are said to be minute, but still large enough that you shouldn’t throw them away in the regular garbage, but rather take them to a disposal sight like a hardware store.

I have a few of these bulbs in my home. I like the idea of saving electricity to protect the environment, but I’m worried about how to react when I accidentally break one. Call a hazmat team?

Now, new research reveals that LED lights, which are used in Christmas decorations, car lights and increasingly in household light bulbs, contain many more toxic metals. These lights were supposed to be an improvement over CFLs.

Those light-emitting diodes marketed as safe, environmentally preferable alternatives to traditional lightbulbs actually contain lead, arsenic and a dozen other potentially hazardous substances, according to newly published research.

“LEDs are touted as the next generation of lighting. But as we try to find better products that do not deplete energy resources or contribute to global warming, we have to be vigilant about the toxicity hazards of those marketed as replacements,” said Oladele Ogunseitan, chair of UC Irvine’s Department of Population Health & Disease Prevention.


“We find the low-intensity red LEDs exhibit significant cancer and noncancer potentials due to the high content of arsenic and lead,” the team wrote in the January 2011 issue of Environmental Science & Technology, referring to the holiday lights. Results from the larger lighting products will be published later, but according to Ogunseitan, “it’s more of the same. (Source)

I’m afraid that in our rush to reduce electricity consumption to abate global warming, we’ve introduced hastily-designed and ill-conceived solutions that may end up causing large envirnmental problems down the road. Obviously, one bulb doesn’t contain enough toxic substance to kill anybody. But now that these things are being sold in the hundreds of millions across North America, we could be in for some problems when bulbs in the landfill start leaking chemicals into the eco-system.

Unfortunately, we have no choice but to buy these replacement bulbs because Canada and Europe will be banning sales of the “regular” incandescent bulbs starting in 2012. The US does not appear to be phasing out the incandescent bulbs, but they’re falling in popularity as efficiency standards for bulbs are being raised.

With all the hype over global warming, we’ve almost completely ignored really toxic substances. Environmental legislation and policies have been almost total hijacked by global warming, to the point that other environmental problems are getting much less attention than required.

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