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CFL Bulbs Conserve Energy, But Are They Dangerous?

(CBS) -- Compact florescent light bulbs, commonly called CFLs, are supposed to be good for your electricity bill, but are they bad for your health?

As CBS 2's Mary Kay Kleist reports, new research shows that these bulbs can emit UV radiation.

"I'm not crazy how they look exposed, but it does cut down on our costs and they last a lot longer," Bernie Cobb says of the CFLs at his home.

The bulbs use 50 percent less energy and last much longer than incandescent bulbs. Vicki Cobb says one of the bulbs, installed in a lamp, has lasted four years.

Soon we'll see CFL's everywhere. Due to a government mandate, 100-watt incandescent bulbs will be phased out this year, with 75-watt bulbs the next year. CFLs are the least expensive alternative to traditional light bulbs, but now there's word of a potential health risk.

The energy-saving light bulbs can actually emit UV radiation. Researchers from Stony Brook University found microscopic cracks in the protective, phosphor coating in all of the bulbs they analyzed.

Results showed high levels of UVA and UVC in all of the bulbs and UVB in more than half of them. They exposed skin cells to the bulbs and results were disturbing, showing damage comparable to going outside without sunscreen.

"Scarily enough, they showed increased cell death in the skin that they exposed to the CFLs," says Dr. Rebecca Tung of Loyola University Health System.

Tung has pulled CFLs from her own home.

"It may be a little alarmist, but I think more studies need to be looked into this before I'm sitting at close range with one of these bulbs," she says.

Researchers advise you to stay one or two feet away from the bulbs.

"I do have one next to the chair that I sit in every night, and I'm now thinking maybe I should change that one," Vicki Cobb says.

The National Electrical Manufacturers Association says it's a complex issue. The organization admits that CFLs can emit radiation but says the levels are low and safe under normal use. For the group's full statement, click here.

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