Environment & Science

Lower-energy lightbulbs are not without risks

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University of California researchers have found that the LED lightbulbs that companies promote as a green alternative to traditional bulbs can be toxic.

Irvine and Davis scientists studied light-emitting diodes. They’re more expensive than incandescent bulbs, but they last longer.

Researchers crushed up low-intensity LEDs – like the kind found in strings of holiday lights – and studied them in red, blue, yellow, green and white. In the red lights, they found up to eight times the amount of lead California says is safe.

Green and yellow lights contained lead too. The study found no lead in low-intensity white and blue lights. These findings underline the challenges of regulating potentially toxic materials.

As of last month, retailers can’t sell incandescent light bulbs in California because they’re illegal now. At the same time, LEDs are turning up in traffic lights, in homes, and on city streets.

The National Science Foundation paid for the study conducted at Irvine's Department of Population Health and Disease Prevention. Researchers there warn that the newer lightbulbs carry different risks than the traditional ones they're replacing.