Downside to Everything: CFLs Cause Cancer (Maybe)

At one point in my working life I worked for a boss that had the catch-cry: “there is a downside to everything, and in most cases more than one”. I must have heard him say this thousands of times over the three or four years I worked in his department.

When you are about 25 years old you don’t really pay that much attention to very wise sayings like this, but as you stack the years on you realise that this is absolute truth. Everything, absolutely everything, has a downside or two or three. The trick is to identify the downside(s) and decide if you can live with it (them).

As the world rushes to replace energy gobbling incandescent light bulbs with CFLs (compact fluorescent lights) there is a growing concern that proximity to CFLs—closer than about three metres—might cause cancer.


I have spotted the odd item relating to this popping up over the last year or so but just lately, as various governments around the world are now encouraging people to convert over to CFLs, there is an ever growing number of reports popping up supporting the view that proximity to CFLs increases the risk cancer. The item in the UK Telegraph, linked to by the picture above [use Ctrl+Click to open in a new Tab, or Shift+Click if you use Opera], is one of the more recent articles on this subject.

CFLsCancer2I have two CFLs in the roof sockets in my ‘office’ and the one more or less above my head would be about 1.5 metres away. So, based on what these people are saying, it is too close.

There are supposed to be two massive upsides to using CFLs. Firstly, they only use about 15 percent of the power to produce the equivalent light of an incandescent light bulb. Secondly, they are supposed to last about 10 times as long as an incandescent light bulb, however I have not seen the evidence for this second point. It is my experience that CFLs in my house are probably only lasting about as long as incandescent light bulbs did/do. In some cases I would say CFLs haven’t even lasted half as long.

I guess at this stage this gets filed in the same section as “do mobile phones cause cancer?”

But it is worth keeping an eye on this, an for now I might just replace the CFL above my head with one of the new halogen low power consumption bulbs (although there is bound to be a problem with them that we have not found out about yet, as well).