Find out why LED lighting should be banned

Source: Low-tech Magazine (only LED parts of the article quoted, highlights added)

Viva Las Vegas: LEDs and the energy efficiency paradox

October 14, 2008

Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs)

The drawbacks of CFLs are slowly gaining recognition even amongst critics of the incandescent light bulb. More and more, compact fluorescent lamps are considered to be an interim technology, awaiting the arrival of Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) and Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLEDs).

Strikingly, exactly the same thing is happening with biofuels, where advocates eventually accepted the unforeseen disadvantages but point to a next generation of technology which offers all the benefits without the drawbacks.

LEDs do not contain mercury and they are even more energy-efficient than CFLs, while boasting even longer life expectancies. However, also this technology still has to fulfil its promises.

LEDs have become a mature and clearly advantageous technology when it comes to coloured lighting – red, green, yellow. This makes them a very good choice for traffic lights, for instance. White light – the light that we need most to light up our homes and streets – is another story.


White LEDs are considerably less energy efficient, have lower life expectancies and can become very hot. High powered white LEDs are equipped with a fan to cool them down – introducing extra energy consumption, noise and breaking possibilities. Also, there is evidence that high power white LEDs can damage health. And last but not least: white light from a LED looks very much like the light of a welder: more blue than white, and everything but cosy.

Viva Las Vegas

At the moment, LED technology is no competition for the incandescent light bulb. However, it can be considered a worthy improvement of another technology: neon lights. And that’s the problem. Whether or not white LEDs will finally arrive, the success of coloured LEDs is a fact. New applications are appearing every day, and even though some of them are definitely useful, they all introduce lighting in places and situations where there was no lighting before.


Pasting many thousands of LEDs on a large building, with the sole purpose of decoration, seems to be the new hot thing in architecture. Dozens of examples (including the pictures on this page) can be found herehereherehere and here.

The people behind these projects almost always emphasize the energy efficiency of the lighting technology used, but of course no energy is saved here, on the contrary.

The LED lights attached to facades (sometimes more than 200,000 of them) are not substituting incandescent light bulbs, they substitute a non-lit façade.

So what counts is the extra energy consumption introduced by these LED-curtains, not the energy savings compared to wrapping a building in incandescent lights or neon – which nobody would do, except in Las Vegas.

Solar panels

Gigantic billboards are another emerging application of LEDs. Bejing has two of them. Greenpix measures 2,200 square meters, another screen in the same city – placed not vertically but horizontally as a roof over a street – measures 7,500 m². In Dubai, a 33 story LED-display is planned, visible to a distance up to 1.5 kilometres, to be attached to a skyscraper.


Greenpix is powered by solar panels, and therefore it is marketed as “a radical example of sustainable technology”. Of course, it is not. It takes energy to manufacture solar panels. Introducing renewable energy lowers energy consumption only if it substitutes existing energy production.

Translucent concrete and luminous pavement

Two other recent inventions that should raise concern: translucent concrete and luminous pavement. In the near future, we will leave the light on in every room of our house, not for ourselves, but for the passer-by on the street and for the neighbours. LED-walls can display moving images, controlled by a computer. Every wall, every building, every bridge and every paving-stone could become a medium for communication.

LEDs could revolutionise interior design and the list of products that can be “augmented” by LEDs seems infinite. Some examples: taps and showerheads that change the colour of the water according to temperaturecolour changing book shelvesilluminated clothing and accessoriesslipperssafety clothinggarden lightsgarden benchesspeed bumps and crossings.


Some of these applications are worthwhile. Most notably, LEDs promise to make traffic safer. And many people will be thrilled by the emerging design possibilities. But this technology will NOT lower energy consumption, on the contrary. There will be much more lighting everywhere, and because this lighting is more efficient, the best that can happen is that energy consumption will not rise.

In fact, that’s exactly what the shopkeeper’s association in Madrid answered last December, when Spanish newspaper El País asked why there was such a striking increase of Christmas lights compared to the year before: “LEDs consume much less energy, so we can use much more lights without consuming more energy”.

The energy efficiency paradox

It is a common misconception that energy efficiency always leads to energy savings. This might be true in some cases, but not in most. Computers, televisions and car engines are good examples. All these technologies have become much more efficient during the last decades, but their energy consumption has been constant or on the rise.


Even the arrival of a radically new energy efficient technology – comparable to the change from Edison bulbs to LEDs – is no guarantee. LCD and plasma television technology is in itself considerably more energy efficient than the conventional cathode-ray tube. There was a potential for a reduction in energy consumption, but instead it was decided to use the technology to make larger televisions without raising power consumption (too much).

There are so many examples of the energy efficiency paradox that it is hard to believe that this mechanism (already described in 1865 by Stanley Jevons and further developed by Daniel Khazzoom and Len Brookes in the 1970s) is still so controversial. Maybe LEDs will finally convince us, because they promise to become one of the most powerful examples to date.


The paradox is very hard to prove for compact fluorescent lamps, because they did not bring about new applications. It could be that people are tempted to install more lights and leave them on for longer periods, because they know they consume less – but that’s very hard to prove, and not so likely either. With LEDs, however, the situation is vastly different. Your desk lamp might use less energy in 10 years time, but the technology that made it happen will also light the exterior of all buildings and infrastructure in your city. 

More instruments needed

LEDs illustrate the danger of a purely technological approach to energy conservation. A technology that was originally designed to save energy, gives way to all kinds of new applications that might eventually raise energy consumption considerably. The evolution of technology is unpredictable, and therefore technology should never be the only solution to a problem.

Outlawing incandescent light bulbs – which several countries plan to do – is no solution either. The guy burning one light bulb in his little room (and maybe using the excess heat of his bulb as heating in winter) damages the environment a whole lot less than the guy on the other side of the street who decorates his mansion and garden like a casino with LEDs.

There is a lot of room to lower energy consumption without switching to new technology. Something is awfully wrong with our approach to energy conservation.


All this does not mean that energy efficiency is a bad thing. It brings economical gains and many other advantages: faster cars, more powerful and smaller computers, larger televisions. For many of us, these are all very important achievements. Energy efficiency also offers the possibility for a reduction in energy consumption, but this does not happen automatically.

More is needed to translate energy efficiency into energy reduction. A carbon tax or higher energy prices, for instance. Together with these instruments, energy efficiency can be a very powerful tool. Without them, energy efficiency works against us when it comes to saving energy.

© Kris De Decker (edited by Vincent Grosjean)



New research shows CFLs and LED light bulbs have higher toxicity and resource depletion than incandescent bulbs

by Barbara Kyle | January 16th, 2013

CFL bulb

Both compact fluorescents and LED lightbulbs qualify as hazardous waste under California and EPA protocols

New research from scientists in California and South Korea, published yesterday in Environmental Science and Technology, shows that while compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) and LEDs have better energy efficiency than incandescent bulbs, they compare unfavorably when you look at their potential toxicity (at the end-of-life phase) and resource depletion.

First, let’s be clear that the study focused on the kinds of CFL and LED light bulbs  you can screw into a lamp used for ambient lighting, not the LEDs used to light flat screen TVs or monitors (more on that later). Also, the study did not consider toxicity in the extraction or manufacturing phase – but just on the end-of-life phase, assuming they were trashed, not recycled (since sadly, most people do put used bulbs in the trash).

Because the bulbs have very different expected lifetimes, they “normalized” their data on resource depletion and toxicity potential by using data for fifty incandescents, five CFLs, and one LED bulb. Even after normalizing their calculations, the team found that CFLs have from three to 26 times higher resource depletion and toxicity potential than incandescents and LED bulbs have two to three times higher potential.

LED bulb


Both CFLs and LEDs have higher levels of metals than incandescents have, except for Tungsten (in the filaments) and nickel:

  • CFLs and LEDs require more metal-containing components that supply power to light the bulbs
  • CFLs and LED require one or more circuit boards (adding antimony, copper, lead, iron)
  • CFLs and LEDs use copper in the coils and zinc as protective coatings to stainless steel
  • CFLs contain mercury, phosphorous, and yttrium
  • LED bulbs include a heat sink to dissipate the heat (adding aluminum)
  • LED chips include antimony and gallium
  • LEDs use barium and chromium in stainless steel, and phosphorous, silver and gold elsewhere

With so many metals used, including some critical metals, we need to see more recycling and less trashing of all these bulbs.

CFLs and LED bulbs flunk hazardous waste test

All three bulbs were tested to see if they should be classified as hazardous waste, under the protocols established by Federal EPA (the TCLP test)  and California Department of Toxic Substances Control (the TTLC methodology).  The CFLs and LED bulbs were both determined to be hazardous waste, but the incandescent bulbs were not. Both the CFLs and LED bulbs far exceeded the federal TCLP levels for lead and the California TTLC level for copper. The CFLs also far exceeded the California levels for zinc. While the CFLs measured just below the California level for mercury, the authors state that the methods used for sampling did not capture the mercury that could have vaporized when the CFL bulb was broken. (This may mean that the primary concern could be the exposure to whomever breaks, or cleans up a broken CFL bulb, even more than what happens in the trash.)


The study evaluated the hazard based toxicity potential (on a per bulb basis), using two different methodologies. Both showed the CFLs and LEDs have higher hazard potential than incandescents because of copper, aluminum and zinc.  CFLs and LEDs also had higher scores for human and eco-toxicity potentials. “The CFLs exhibit at least 2.5 and 1.3 times higher human- and eco-toxicity potentials than the LEDs, respectively, and the CFLs and LEDs exhibit at least 2 orders of magnitude higher potentials than the incandescent bulb,” according to the report.

What about LEDs in flat panel TVs and monitors?

The next logical question is what this kind of evaluation would find if focused on the LED components that light TVs and monitors. The University of California researchers have evaluated individual pin type LEDs, like those used as indicator lights in electronics. But given that some of the impacts from the LED bulbs studied here come from the ancillary components needed not just to light one LED, but to light the bulb, we would be very curious to see studies that look at the full array LED backlights or edge lights in TVs to determine, in particular, whether they should be classified as hazardous waste or not.

Source: LED products billed as eco-friendly contain toxic metals, study finds

LED products billed as eco-friendly contain toxic metals, study finds

UC researchers tested holiday bulbs, traffic lights and car beams

Irvine, Calif., February 10, 2011

Those light-emitting diodes marketed as safe, environmentally preferable alternatives to traditional lightbulbs actually contain lead, arsenic and a dozen other potentially hazardous substances, according to newly published research.

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

He and fellow scientists at UCI and UC Davis crunched, leached and measured the tiny, multicolored lightbulbs sold in Christmas strands; red, yellow and green traffic lights; and automobile headlights and brake lights. Their findings? Low-intensity red lights contained up to eight times the amount of lead allowed under California law, but in general, high-intensity, brighter bulbs had more contaminants than lower ones. White bulbs copntianed the least lead, but had high levels of nickel.

“We find the low-intensity red LEDs exhibit significant cancer and noncancer potentials due to the high content of arsenic and lead,” the team wrote in the January 2011 issue of Environmental Science & Technology, referring to the holiday lights. Results from the larger lighting products will be published later, but according to Ogunseitan, “it’s more of the same.”

Lead, arsenic and many additional metals discovered in the bulbs or their related parts have been linked in hundreds of studies to different cancers, neurological damage, kidney disease, hypertension, skin rashes and other illnesses. The copper used in some LEDs also poses an ecological threat to fish, rivers and lakes.

Ogunseitan said that breaking a single light and breathing fumes would not automatically cause cancer, but could be a tipping point on top of chronic exposure to another carcinogen. And – noting that lead tastes sweet – he warned that small children could be harmed if they mistake the bright lights for candy.

Risks are present in all parts of the lights and at every stage during production, use and disposal, the study found. Consumers, manufacturers and first responders to accident scenes ought to be aware of this, Ogunseitan said. When bulbs break at home, residents should sweep them up with a special broom while wearing gloves and a mask, he advised. Crews dispatched to clean up car crashes or broken traffic fixtures should don protective gear and handle the material as hazardous waste. Currently, LEDs are not classified as toxic and are disposed of in regular landfills. Ogunseitan has forwarded the study results to California and federal health regulators.

He cites LEDs as a perfect example of the need to mandate product replacement testing. The diodes are widely hailed as safer than compact fluorescent bulbs, which contain dangerous mercury. But, he said, they weren’t properly tested for potential environmental health impacts before being marketed as the preferred alternative to inefficient incandescent bulbs, now being phased out under California law. A long-planned state regulation originally set to take effect Jan. 1 would have required advance testing of such replacement products. But it was opposed by industry groups, a less stringent version was substituted, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger placed the law on hold days before he left office.

“I’m frustrated, but the work continues,” said Ogunseitan, a member of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control’s Green Ribbon Science Panel. He said makers of LEDs and other items could easily reduce chemical concentrations or redesign them with truly safer materials. “Every day we don’t have a law that says you cannot replace an unsafe product with another unsafe product, we’re putting people’s lives at risk,” he said. “And it’s a preventable risk.”

Another earlier safety warning about LEDs from the Swedish National Electrical Safety Board (posted and translated by Greenwashing Lamps).

Banned LED bulbs

Dec 14, 2011

With the new energy conservation requirements, incandescent bulbs be phased out, increasing interest in alternative lighting. The National Electrical Safety Board has recently given a variety of LED lamps sales ban.

The most common reason is electrical grid disturbances, but they also interfere with radio frequencies. The lamps which the Safety Board has looked at are the incandescent bulb replacement LED bulbs. They are based on modern LED technology and all the lamps tested contain a small power pack, situated in the lamp socket.

List of products which have so far received sales ban: Lamp 1Lamp 2Lamp 3Lamp 4Lamp 5Lamp 6Lamp 7. [3 more but links required login]

Result of market supervision

More than half of the LED lights purchased through the market and tested have received sales bans. This is a remarkably high figure, which may be because most of the lights checked had built-in dimming, i.e. that they are dimmable.

Dimmable LED lamps contain control electronics that often require specific measures to achieve acceptable properties to make electrical devices work together, known as electromagnetic compatibility (EMC). This is sometimes overlooked by the lamp manufacturers. 

It is important to you as a manufacturer or importer to ensure that the LEDs have been tested properly with EMC.

How does the disturbance manifest?

LEDs produce disturbances in the distribution system which, among other things, can cause radio interference. Radio interference caused by the conducted noise radiating from the connected wires. This is because the lines, e.g. to the luminaire, act as transmitting antennas for conducted interference. The disturbance may affect other electrical products in the local area, even those that are not connected to an outlet. It can also affect communication such as wireless broadband and telephony.

What rules apply for manufacturers?

The Electrical Safety Authority on electromagnetic compatibility (ELSÄK-FS 2007:1) has to be followed. Regulations based on the EMC Directive (2004/108/EC EMCD).

Cooperation within the EU about LED lights

There is currently a campaign in the EU where LED lighting examined. The aim is to investigate if the new LED lights on the market comply with applicable EMC requirements.

A few months later, EU authorities found similar problems:

Disruptive LEDs are examined in the EU

Feb 10, 2012

The National Electrical Safety Board has in 2011 looked into LED lights, half of which got sales bans. The reason for the bans is that the lights did not meet the applicable requirements for electromagnetic compatibility (EMC).

Market of LED lamps 2011The lights disrupted other electrical products. Only one in five LED lamps passed the test without comment.

European survey

In parallel with the National Electrical Safety Board’s market surveillance of LED lights, the EU carried out an investigation. The EU surveillance is not strictly comparable to the Safety Boards’s market surveillance, but shows similar shortcomings. The results also show that manufacturers who use LED technology are very poor at complying with the Directive.

– The reason for this is that LED technology is so new and there have appeared many new manufacturers in the market that are simply not aware of the directive, said Ulf Johansson at the Safety Board.

Clearer rules

One of several measures aimed at improving the situation is that the European Commission gives the European Committee for Standardisation mandate to supplement and clarify standards in the field. The aim is to help traders in the market to more easily use the current rules.

Continued control

The National Electrical Safety Board will, in line with other market surveillance authorities in the EU, check the LEDs in 2012 as well. It also plans to follow up on last year’s surveillance with a campaign aimed at improving information about the LED lights.

Original sources:

Förbjudna LED-lampor

Störande lampor granskas i EU

Final Report on the 4th Cross-Border EMC Market Surveillance Campaign – 2011 LED Lighting Products

Earlier safety warnings about LEDs from the Swedish National Electrical Safety Board (posted and translated by Greenwashing Lamps).

LED tubes can be dangerous

May 20, 2010

To save energy, many industries, municipalities and other large consumers of traditional fluorescent lamps are switching to LED lamps. Tests show that LED tubes can compromise the security of the person replacing the lamp.

LED lampsThe new LED tubes are supplied with 230 V voltage to the luminaire lamp holder for the lamp ends. The risk is getting an electric shock when the lamp is replaced because it is easy to touch the shiny connectors at one end of the tube, while the other end is attached to the light fixture.

Can be mounted in standard fluorescent fixtures

The National Electrical Safety Board has been tested a number of LED tubes in the Swedish market. All products can be installed in conventional fluorescent fixtures. The results of the tests show such serious faults that the agency has decided to withdraw the products from end users. Importers are required to advertise alerts to reach all end users.

– The current LED tubes are sold primarily via the Internet and can be found both among consumers as that of bulk consumers, says Martin Gustafsson at the Safety Board. Those who have purchased the product should contact the place of purchase for warranty.

Safety Board has no data on how many of those LED lamps on the market, but there may be a thousand.

The corresponding study in Finland

The Finnish equivalent of the National Electrical Safety Board, Safety Tukes, has been tested a number of led tube. Test results have shown that the tested products did not comply with safety regulations, and there was a risk of electric shock when replacing the tubes. According Tukes there are in Finland several thousand LED tubes that can be dangerous. The Safety Board has contacted the LED tube suppliers in Sweden who have received the Finnish counterpart sales ban in Finland and asked them to take voluntary measures in accordance with the measures Tukes has demanded. The LED tubes tested by the Swedish Safety board have not been tested in Finland.

Original source:

LED-lysrör kan vara farliga