Research reveals LED bulbs not so eco-friendly

LED lights have toxic metals complicating their disposal

The disposal of LED lights should be treated carefully, say US researchers.
The disposal of LED lights should be treated carefully, say US researchers.

A new study from the University of California indicates that LED lights contain toxic metals, and should be produced, used and disposed of carefully.

LED light bulbs are becoming increasingly popular with designers and consumers of green technology, as they use less electricity, last longer and emit more light than traditional incandescent bulbs.

However, while it may be tempting to look at them as having solved the problem of environmentally-unfriendly lighting, researchers from the University of California would advise against such thinking.

Scientists from UC Irvine and UC Davis have found that low-intensity red LEDs contained up to eight times the amount of lead allowed under California law, although generally brighter bulbs tended to contain the most contaminants.

While white bulbs had a lower lead content than their colored counterparts, they still had high levels of nickel.

Incandescent bulbs contain very high levels of lead and mercury, while compact fluorescents are also high in mercury.

Besides the lead and nickel, the LED bulbs and their associated parts were also found to contain arsenic, copper and other metals that have been linked to different cancers, neurological damage, kidney disease, hypertension, skin rashes and other illnesses in humans, and to ecological damage in waterways.

UC Irvine’s Oladele Ogunseitan said that, while breaking a single bulb and breathing its fumes would not automatically cause cancer, it could be the tipping point for an individual regularly exposed to another carcinogen.

The study found that the production, use and disposal of LEDs all present health risks, which the public should be made aware of. LEDs are currently not classified as toxic, and are disposed of in conventional landfills.

Ogunseitan blames the situation on a lack of proper product testing before LEDs were presented as a more efficient replacement for incandescent bulbs, which are now being phased out around the world.

Although a law requiring more stringent testing for such products was scheduled to begin on 1 January in California, it was opposed by industry groups, and former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger put it on hold before leaving office.

“Every day we do not have a law that says you cannot replace an unsafe product with another unsafe product, we are putting people's lives at risk, and it is a preventable risk,” said Ogunseitan.

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