Acton Institute Powerblog

Will I need a CFL Bulb Waiver?

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Incandescent light bulbs are months away from being banned because they do not meet the efficiency requirements passed by Congress in 2007 that take effect starting 2012; however, before the ban takes place there may be a need to further evaluate the safety and benefits of CFL light bulbs.

New research has some concerned that CFL bulbs contain cancer causing chemicals:

…German scientists claimed that several carcinogenic chemicals and toxins were released when the environmentally-friendly compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) were switched on, including phenol, naphthalene and styrene.

Andreas Kirchner, of the Federation of German Engineers, said: “Electrical smog develops around these lamps.

“I, therefore, use them only very economically. They should not be used in unventilated areas and definitely not in the proximity of the head.”

Furthermore, the Migraine Action Association has also warned that CFL bulbs could trigger headaches. This was revealed in a report by The Telegraph, a UK paper, and many British experts are insisting that more research needs to be conducted and are recommending that consumers do not panic.

Despite possible medical problems, can we rest assured that the ban of incandescent light bulbs is because the government is concerned about our pocketbooks and wants us to save money on our energy bills, even though the CFL bulbs are more expensive than their incandescent counterparts? Furthermore we are reminded that CFL bulbs last longer. So the government is truly looking out for us right?


As the Wall Street Journal points out, the estimated useful lifespan for a CFL bulb was originally 9.4 years, but now CFL manufacturer PG&E estimates it to be 6.3 years. In some locations, such as bathrooms, the bulbs don’t even last that long. “Field tests show higher burnout rates in certain locations, such as bathrooms and in recessed lighting. Turning them on and off a lot also appears to impair longevity.” As the Heritage Foundation accurately states, “This does not mean that CFLs won’t save consumers energy in the long run. But be wary of government bureaucrats telling you that you’ll save X dollars or save X amount of energy by buying a more efficient washing machine, air conditioner, vehicle, and other machine with energy-efficiency standards.”

And what happens if you unfortunately break a CFL bulb? The Heritage Foundation shows a pretty long list of safety guidelines to follow from the EPA due to the mercury content found in the bulbs. Also, keep in mind that even if you do not break a CFL bulb it still has to be properly disposed, meaning you cannot simply throw it away.

There may be a way to avoid the potentially harmful CFL bulb in 2012. An LED bulb may be on the market that can replace the 100 watt incandescent bulb and it will only cost you about $50 per bulb. Quite the bargain.

British experts may have had a point by urging that more research be conducted. The U.S. government should heed this advice, especially with studies coming out discrediting the CFL bulbs before the ban on incandescent light bulbs takes effect (never mind the fact that the government shouldn’t have banned incandescent bulbs, and instead, should let the market dictate whether consumers decide what light bulb they would like to purchase). Until the government decides to act on this measure I would like to know where I can get in line for my CFL light bulb waiver. Hey, it seems to be working for many constituents in Nancy Pelosi’s district in acquiring ObamaCare waivers.

Louie Glinzak


  • The CFL lightbulbs I’ve used in a variety of locations in my home are consistently underwhelming me. They don’t last long and I always throw them in the trash. Major inconvenience. Stockpiling, insuring that stockpile and selling them on ebay may be in my future.

  • Priscilla

    No authoritative or regulatory body anywhere in the world classifies styrene to be a known cause of human cancer.  Moreover, a study conducted by a “blue ribbon” panel of epidemiologists and published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (November 2009) reports: “The evidence of human carcinogenicity of styrene is inconsistent and weak.  On the basis of the available evidence, one cannot conclude that there is a causal relationship between styrene and any type of human cancer.”

    Priscilla Briones for the Styrene Information and Research Center (SIRC), Arlington, Virginia. SIRC ( is a trade association representing interests of the North American styrene industry with its mission being the collection, development, analysis and communication of pertinent information on styrene. 

  • Louie Glinzak


    Thank you for your comments. However according to the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC) styrene
    is a possible human carcinogen. Furthermore, naphthalene, which is also found
    in CFL light bulbs is also listed by the CDC as an anticipated human carcinogen
    based on the effects it has had on animal studies.

    Furthermore, besides possible health consequences, as I touched
    on in my post, the other problem is that the government is banning incandescent
    bulbs and forcing consumers to purchase the CFL bulb in 2012 (or possibly have
    the choice between a CFL bulb or an LED bulb). Instead, the government should
    not ban the incandescent bulb and let the market dictate which light bulb
    consumers would like to purchase. If the CFL bulb is a better cost saving
    measure for consumers and more “superior” than the incandescent bulb then that
    will be demonstrated in the market and more consumers will purchase the CFL
    bulb than the incandescent bulb.  

  • Lech Dharma

    If CFLs really were a better product, or a safer product, and/or they cost the consumer less in the short run (or long run), than why did the Government feel they had to outlaw incandescents?  Wouldn’t consumers choose them without the law?