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LED Bulbs Contain Lead and Arsenic, Study Finds

3/3/2011 12:00:00 AM

Tags: LED bulbs, lead, arsenic, California, cancer

LED light bulbs contain lead, arsenic and a dozen other potentially hazardous substances, according to a recent study published by University of California researchers, Green Building News reports.

“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 and Disease Prevention, who led the study. Lead, arsenic and other metals discovered in the bulbs have been linked to cancers, neurological damage, kidney disease, hypertension, skin rashes and other illnesses.

The researchers found that low-intensity red Christmas string lights contained up to eight times the amount of lead allowed under California law. White bulbs contained the least lead but had high nickel levels. “We find the low-intensity red LEDs exhibit significant cancer and noncancer potentials due to the high content of arsenic and lead,” the team reported in Environmental Science & Technology.

The team’s study of overhead room lighting and bedside lamps is undergoing peer-review and will be published later, but Ogunseitan said the patterns are more of the same.

“I am very passionate about energy efficiency, and I think LEDs are a step in the right direction, but we should be very careful not to add to the toxicity risks that are already almost overwhelming for people and the environment from consumer products disposal,” Ogunseitan said. “I hope that we still have time before the lighting bulb regulation takes effect, to encourage manufacturers of LEDs to use materials that will not put the burden on consumers to avoid toxic exposures or to figure out how to dispose of hazardous waste generated by LEDs.”

If you break an LED bulb, Ogunseitan recommends sweeping it with a special broom while wearing gloves and a mask.

LED bulb 

Clean up carefully if you break an LED bulb. Photo by Jessie Fetterling 


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