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UC researchers: LED lights contain lead, arsenic


LED light bulbs are the green alternative to standard incandescent light bulbs, right?

Wrong, says a new study from UC Irvine and UC Davis that suggests those good-for-the-environment light bulbs contain lead, arsenic and a dozen other potentially toxic and hazardous substances.

“LEDs are touted as the next generation of lighting,” said Oladele Ogunseitan, the study's author and chair of UC Irvine’s Department of Population Health and Disease Prevention. “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.”

To see what LED lights contain – small Christmas-strand LED lights, in particular – Ogunseitan and his team smashed up some bulbs and tested their contents.

They found that low-intensity red lights contained up to eight times the legally allowed level of lead in California.

In general, however, the higher-intensity, brighter bulbs had more contaminants than lower-intensity ones.

“We find the low-intensity red LEDs exhibit significant cancer and noncancer potential due to the high content of arsenic and lead,” the researchers wrote in their study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

The team also looked at larger light bulbs – such as those in car headlights and traffic lights – but haven’t yet published those results. Ogunseitan said in a press statement that the results were similar.

Lead and arsenic have been linked to cancer and other noncancerous health concerns, such as neurological damage, kidney disease and other illnesses.

If an LED light bulb breaks at home, Ogunseitan suggested using a special broom to clean it up, as well as wearing gloves and a mask. He said emergency teams dispatched to clean up car crashes should take special precautions.

Currently, there are no restrictions on putting LEDs into the trash. The team has sent their findings to state officials and federal health regulators.

California law requires traditional incandescent light bulbs to be phased out over the next few years.

This leaves consumers with the choice of buying LEDs or compact fluorescent bulbs, which contain mercury.

In 2009, Los Angeles announced a plan to replace 140,000 existing streetlight fixtures with LED units.


Filed under: Environment, Daily Report


Comments are closed for this story.
Marlinman's picture

While it may be true that LEDs contain unsafe levels of numerous toxins and carcinogens, they are also encapsulated in their plastic housings that do not readily deteriorate over time. Fluorescent bulbs on the other hand break rather easily and create an instant hazard!

I deal with these issues on a regular basis and things like paint that contains lead is not considered a safety hazard when removed in large pieces but is a problem when finely ground or sanded during the removal process. The same goes for asbestos containing concrete pipe, large broken pieces are not considered a problem, but the waste from saw cutting operations is. So I would venture to say unless a person purposely smashes and grinds their LED lamps into piles of dust, ITS NOT A PROBLEM.

These studies need to consider the big picture here, undamaged LEDs are miles ahead of the competition in their value AND safety to people in the real world! A cyanide pill encapsulated in a durable glass capsule would pass right through your body with no effect, unless the capsule broke - then you would die within minutes!

lighthouse's picture

There is a bigger point here, regardless of light bulb choices:

All lights have their advantages, and even if there were energy savings, citizens pay for the electricity they use. There is no energy and in particular no electricity shortage, including future low emission electricity, justifying a limitation on what citizens can use, and if there was a shortage of finite coal/oil/gas sources, the price rise limits the use anyway - without legislation.

Perhaps of interest: The unpublicised industrial politics behind banning ordinary incandescents, with documentation and copies of official communications: ceolas.net/#li1ax

Why supposed energy savings are not there anyway: ceolas.net/#li171x with US Dept of Energy references = Under 1% overall energy savings from energy efficiency regulations on incandescent lights. ..

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