Campaigning for the approx. 2 million people in the UK
adversely affected by modern lighting.
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1. What is the Spectrum Alliance?
The Spectrum Alliance is a group of charities and support groups for people who suffer adverse health effects from low energy lighting. The Spectrum Alliance is made up of:
- Lupus (LUPUS UK, Eclipse Support Group and LUPUS EUROPE)
- Xeroderma Pigmentosum (XP Support Group)
- Migraine (Migraine Action)
- Electro sensitive people (ElectroSensitivity-UK)
and it is supported by
- Autism (National Autistic Society and Research Autism)
- ME (Right to Light)
2. Who is affected by low energy lighting?
We estimate that about 2 million people, that’s 1 in 30, in the UK with existing health conditions that will be made worse by the ban on incandescent lighting.
Others who have no diagnosed pre-existing conditions are now also being affected by new forms of lighting as employers, local authorities and other bodies move over to low energy lighting.
Some prescribed drugs have side effects that cause photosensitive reactions. People taking these photo sensitising drugs can also be affected by low energy lighting, such as by their skin being burned.
3. How bad are the effects?
- People with Lupus can have their skin burned and suffer severe headaches.
- Children born with Xeroderma Pigmentosum have their DNA irreparably damaged on exposure to low energy lighting.
- Migraineurs see their migraines made more frequent.
- Others with no pre-existing conditions suffer severe headaches (which aren’t migraines), nausea, inability to concentrate, unexplained exhaustion and other symptoms.
4. How did the ban on incandescent light bulbs arise?
The EU ban on incandescent light bulbs was introduced via Directive 2005/32/EC of the European Parliament – the Ecodesign Directive. This was originally introduced to establish a framework for the setting of ecodesign requirements for energy-using products. This directive was voted on by the European Parliament but the actual ban on incandescent light bulbs was not.
5. What is the source of the problem?
The Spectrum Alliance believes that the high level of blue light and the spectral distribution of low energy lights may be the main cause of many of the problems. This makes it impossible for any of the current forms of low energy lighting to meet the health requirements of those affected. There are other potential causes including high frequency flicker and radio frequency emissions that have not as yet been fully researched. In addition, CFLs emit UV radiation, which has well documented health effects, and contain mercury.
Human beings have evolved to respond to sunlight and firelight, this is part of our make-up. Incandescent light bulbs closely mimic the light that is produced by the sun and firelight. The light wavelength patterns from existing low energy lighting are so different to sunlight, firelight and incandescent light that these cannot be tolerated by or cause distressing symptoms in some people.
See also the article in THE NEW SCIENTIST on the Media page.
6. Was this information about emissions and about effects health available to the EU when the ban was introduced?
In the UK, DEFRA officials have been aware of this issue since October 2006. The ban on incandescent light bulbs was announced in 2007. The call for the ban was led by the Green parties and their leader was Caroline Lucas (now MP for Brighton Pavilion). She was lobbied by patients groups in the UK about the need for an exemption from the ban for those who suffer adverse health effects from the new bulbs. She only raised these matters with the Commission long after the ban had been introduced.
The EU asked its Standing Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) to consider the health effects of artificial light. They reported in 2008 and concluded that around 250,000 EU citizens would suffer adverse health effects. This equates to 30,000 to 40,000 people in the UK. (This figure was acknowledged by the Health Minister, Anne Milton, in response to a Parliamentary Question on 1 February 2011.) Despite this advice, the EU continued with the implementation of the ban and made no concessions for those people who have adverse health effects.
7. What about the new LED bulbs?
LED lighting, although an improvement on CFLs, has both an erratic spectral pattern and a high level of blue light. They also have various issues with radio frequency emission and high frequency flicker. This is true of the latest soft white LEDON LEDs we tried in September 2011. LEDs contain arsenic.
8. What does the UK government say about the ban now?
Our case has been taken up Sheila Gilmore MP. She arranged from representatives of the Spectrum Alliance to give a presentation to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Lighting in October 2011.
In his letter of 1 December 2011 to Sheila Gilmore MP the Environment Minister, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, says:
“The original report on the health effects of lighting produced by the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENHIR) was available at the time the regulation was voted upon by all Member States…”
This is incorrect on two points:
- The Regulation (the ban on incandescent light bulbs) was not voted on by all Member States as stated above.
- The SCENIHR report was requested as an afterthought. The ban had already been decided upon.
In March 2012 Sheila Gilmore MP and Joan Walley MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Lighting, met with the Environment Minister, Lord Taylor, who refused to seek an exemption from the ban for people who suffer adverse health effects from low energy lighting.
9. What do doctors say?
The Spectrum Alliance has broad support from doctors. Including:
- Prof John Hawk, Honorary Consultant Dermatologist and recent Head of the Photobiology Unit, St John's Institute of Dermatology, King's College and St Thomas' Hospital, London and President of the European Society for Photodermatology. Prof Hawk is concerned about the serious adverse health effects on people with certain dermatological conditions.
- Prof John Marshall, Frost Chair of Ophthalmology, UCL Institute of Ophthalmology. Prof Marshall is concerned about the damage that blue light can cause to the retina.
Both of these professors, who are experts in their fields, support the retention of incandescent light bulbs for those who need them.
10. What can be done to help those affected?
The Department of Health and the Lighting Industry must encourage and fund research into the effects of low energy lighting.
11. What else needs to be done?
Two courses of action are needed:
- The EU ban on incandescent light bulbs comes up for renewal by 2014. People who suffer adverse health effects from low energy lighting must have the right to obtain incandescent light bulbs. It is essential the UK ensures this right is enshrined in that legislation.
- The UK must press the EU to set specific quality standards for what can be described as general lighting lamps and fittings. For instance, the light produced by CFLs is far from the quality light with which we humans have evolved. We question whether lighting manufacturers should be permitted to sell products with poor light quality without specific warnings about potential risks to end users. This is analogous to listing potential medical side-effects on pharmaceutical products.
12. What can I do?
- Write to your MP and ask that they write to Lord Taylor of Holbeach asking him to seek an exemption from the ban at least for people who are light sensitive. If you or one of your family is light sensitive tell your MP the impact the ban has on your daily lives.
- Write to your MEPs asking that they support an exemption to the ban, at least for people who are light sensitive, when the ban is reviewed before 2014. Ask them to write to Commissioner Gunther Oettinger, Commissioner for the Environment, asking him to grant this exemption.
- Contact the Spectrum Alliance and tell us about your experiences.
Low energy bulbs make some people ill.
We want the government to allow these people to get the ordinary light bulbs they need.