In case you haven’t noticed shopping at your local hardware store, the incandescent light bulb discovered by Thomas Edison has gone the way of the dinosaur. This is thanks to government regulations which encourage greater light bulb energy efficiency. The market for incandescent light bulbs has quickly been replaced by CFLs and LED bulbs in recent years. While you can still find incandescent bulbs, they are typically specialty bulbs with very low wattage that are not ideal for interior home lighting.
Compact fluorescent lightbulbs have the very alarming problem of mercury exposure should one of these nasties ever break in your home. CFLs also pose an environmental threat to soil and water surrounding landfills as few folks recycle their CFLs choosing instead to throw them in the garbage for their unsuspecting garbage collector to have to deal with sans mask and gloves.
What about LED (light emitting diode) light bulbs in comparison? I’ll give you the good news first.
LED bulbs are indeed energy efficient. End of good news.
The bad news is that they are not in any way a better choice than CFLs for your health or the environment.
How depressing! It seems stocking up on your incandescents is the only way to go at this point to tide you over until a nontoxic solution becomes commercially available – besides candles, that is!
LED bulbs Contain Toxic Heavy Metals
A study by the University of California Irvine found LED bulbs to be loaded with lead, arsenic, and/or nickel. These heavy metals are used to create the LED artificial light. This is quite different compared with the harmless, heated filament in traditional incandescent bulbs.
The high intensity red LED bulbs used in full spectrum infrared saunas contained the most arsenic. Low intensity red lights had high amounts of lead. White bulbs used for home lighting had lower amounts of lead but worrisome levels of nickel.
Fortunately, unlike CFLs, LED light bulbs are not as fragile or likely to break in the home environment, However, LEDs still need to be treated as hazardous waste. Broken bulbs in landfills threaten soil and groundwater with contamination.
Similarly, anyone unfortunate enough to break a LED bulb is advised to don a mask and gloves and sweep up the hazardous mess with a specially made broom. The team of scientists also recommended safety gear for crews who respond to car crashes as LED technology is utilized for car headlights and traffic lights now.
LED Bulbs and Too Much Blue Light
Perhaps the worst thing about LEDs is the artificial light pollution they create in a home or work environment.
Standard white LED bulbs create light that favors the blue spectrum. Exposure to this type of light after sundown disrupts circadian rhythms to the detriment of the deep, restorative sleep we all need. This is why sleep experts recommend a “no screens” policy especially for children 1-2 hours before bed. Too bad they don’t include warnings against using LED bulbs in the home too. Most parents are completely unaware how dangerous LED light is to long-term health. More on how too much blue light is wrecking our sleep in this article on biohacking your way to deeper slumber habits.
In essence, using LED bulbs introduces the serious problem of light pollution into your home environment. It’s a very unhealthy, unbalanced type of light to be exposed to on a daily basis particularly after sundown.
The only upside to LED bulbs is when you use them on the outside of your home. The cooler blue light tends to not attract as many insects!
What to Do if you Can’t Get Away from LED Light Pollution?
What to do if you can’t get away from LED light pollution because of frequent traveling or working late in an LED lit office?
Some people I know are donning special blue blocking glasses at sundown to combat the problem. These glasses prevent LED blue waves from reaching the eye so they don’t disrupt circadian rhythms. The bonus is that using these glasses allows you to work on your computer, watch TV or use your phone after sundown without sleep disruption too.
Do you use LED lightbulbs in your home? Will you be switching back to old fashioned incandescent bulbs now that you know they are bad for your health?
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
You have no idea about illumination, spectrum, kelvin and physiology. Period.
We, too, do not use LED bulbs in our house, nor do some of our friends and family. In fact, my BFF and I stocked up when the bad news came that they were leaving, but they are now available again, thank goodness. Seems we’re not the only ones who prefer them! We tried a couple CFL bulbs when they came free with something, but hated them and that they contained mercury. I looked up “health hazards for LED lighting” after reading on a liberal political site that he who shall remain nameless is rolling back regulations on light bulbs. I myself am very liberal, but that site is very ignorant about health issues; they believe you just pop a pill when you get sick, then you pop another one to counteract the side effects from the first pill, and so on. They would never think of, say, changing their unhealthy lifestyles or switching out their lightbulbs when the LEDs give them continued migraines (as they are wont to do to migraine and headache sufferers), but would continue to take drugs instead. I don’t understand people like that, so I decided it was best not to post that the American Medical Association also has concluded that LED lighting is hazardous to our health, because they are very group-think and get angry at those who think independently. Which is why I quit that site.
I hate following vehicles with LED taillights, which I think cause more accidents than prevent them. I don’t have overly-sensitive eyes, but there are taillights that actually hurt my eyes, so I have to cover or avert my eyes, which is not safe. I didn’t know there were toxic chemicals in LED lights and taillights, which makes me wonder (yet again), how stupid are we?
And thank goodness Christmas lights still come in old-fashioned incandescent! LED Christmas lights have all the warmth and charm of a neon 7-11 sign.
A single light wave has exactly two properties: its color (or, more technically, wavelength) and polarization. (How many waves you have is its intensity.) Neither incandescent nor LED lighting is polarized, so once you filter for the right set of colors there is absolutely no physical difference that can result from how it was produced.
On the other hand, the pollution for an incandescent bulb (ignoring the fact that it’s thrown out over ten times as often) powered by a coal plant is near a ton of CO2, plus a several pounds of of sulfur dioxides, nitrogen oxides, and a long tail of heavy metals and radioactive elements more pumped into the air than running an LED bulb over the same period.
I concede that higher temperature wavelengths are easier to produce with LEDs as opposed to incandescents (which favor lower temperature profiles) which may cause issues with sleeping, but a filter *can* fix this.
LED bulbs is like eating at McDonalds everyday. It not going to kill you today. The long term health effects will. I enjoy my relaxing incandescent bulbs. It provides me with a healthy indoor environment. Until something just as good or better comes out I plan to use the incandescent bulbs. The cost to run incandescent bulbs is a very small cost for a healthy indoor environment. Trust me change out the LED bulbs back to incandescent and your body and eyes will thank you. Not even CFLs are as bad as LED bulbs. The only concern I have with CFL’s is the mercury. Not so much the one light bulb with mercury, but the millions that are tossed in the trash and then gets into our ground water.
Led bulbs come in different temperatures or colors to simply put it. Go with LED but stick to 2500-3000k for a more yellow light if you’re worried about blue light throwing off your circadian rhythm. Don’t just categorize a technology that is 90% more efficient in energy consumption and longevity than the hundred-year-old incandescent bulb as “unhealthy”
LED light is not healthy. Period. Putting a filter on top of it to make it warmer or different colors ultimately doesn’t change the actual light waves – it just colors them to a different shade. I avoid all LED light inside my home and only use incandescent bulbs. Fortunately, they are making a comeback and easier to find as people realize how sleep disturbing LED light can be when used within the home. Some people who are very disturbed by it are now wearing orange glasses after sundown because so many places (even street lights) are LED now.
I have read your articles re CFL & LED lightbulbs. I am in the process of building a new home and specifying the lighting. What is your recommendation for the type of lighting to use? Thank you so much!
The best lightbulbs are the old fashioned incandescent bulbs … hard to find though! Halogen bulbs are ok too.