Compact Fluorescent Lights Cause Breast Cancer?

|

Researchers in Israel are reporting in the journal Chronobiology International that exposure to artificial lighting at night boosts breast cancer rates. They also found that exposure to the bluish light of compact fluorescents is especially dangerous. Using satellite images, the researchers compared breast cancer rates between better lighted neighborhoods and darker ones. As the Washington Post reports:

…the researchers found the breast cancer rate in localities with average night lighting to be 37 percent higher than in communities with the lowest amount of light; and they noted that the rate was higher by an additional 27 percent in areas with the highest amount of light.

Abraham Haim, a University of Haifa chronobiologist involved in the study, said the findings raise questions about the recent push to switch to energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs, which suppress melatonin production more than conventional incandescent bulbs. "This may be a disaster in another 20 years," Haim said, "and you won't be able to reverse what we did by mistake." He called for more research before policies favoring fluorescent lights are implemented, and for more emphasis on using less light at night.

Will this finding spark a battle between the toxin and global warming wings of environmentalism, or will they compromise and demand that we all just sit in the dark?

Advertisement

NEXT: Another McCain-Feingold Triumph!

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. …or will they compromise and demand that we all just sit in the dark?

    I still have trouble understanding why more people don’t do this. It’s not like they read books or anything, and the TV and computer screen cast their own light.

  2. …Compact Flourescent…

    We need the whole wheat kind.

  3. …or will they compromise and demand that we all just sit in the dark?

    What sitting in the dark? It’s bedtime at sundown for you, mister, and rise with the dawn.

  4. Correlation isn’t causation.

  5. Using satellite images, the researchers compared breast cancer rates between better lighted neighborhoods and darker ones.

    Huh? How can one use satellites to to compare cancer to lighting? You can use them for measuring neighborhood lighting, but not to compare cancer to lighting. Unless this is some super-duper satellite or something.

  6. my god. are the lefties wrong on everything?

    if true, this is hilarious (sad, but hilarious)

  7. Using satellite images, the researchers compared breast cancer rates between better lighted neighborhoods and darker ones.

    Score another victory for socialized health care! 🙂

  8. Correlation isn’t causation.

    Unless, in this case, you work for the florescent-lighting manufacturers’ competition.

  9. I question the ability of this study to actually explain much, but in my office we’ve made a big push against flourescent lighting for many reasons (only one of which is that it’s ugly). I’ve been known to stand up on my desk and unscrew a couple of bulbs in the fixture and then wave off the maintenence crew as it attempts to replace the bulbs 🙂

  10. Using satellite images, the researchers compared breast cancer rates between better lighted neighborhoods and darker ones.

    It seems to me there’s probably a whole raft of variables between the two categories of neighborhoods that could affect their findings.

    And what is the mechanism? Are they claiming that melatonin suppresses cancer? Has that been shown, or are they speculating?

  11. Curly Q: Thanks. Fixed.

  12. I was under the impression that cancer is a pathology affecting the affluent. It would seem that the affluent also have more lighting.

  13. I don’t like them because they can trigger migraines. Now that’s a direct link…

    obnoxious flickering light –> my eyes –> my brain –> freaked out trigeminal nerve –> migraine!

    Now, how that flickering light can make it through my sweater, blouse, bra and nursing pads to my boobs… ? Yeah, I don’t think so.

    They could talk about how night lighting relates to the level of industrialization which relates to the level of chemical exposure in the environment and processed foods which relate to breast cancer frequencies, maybe, but it looks as though they didn’t do that.

  14. Bronwyn: The researchers are arguing that CFLs reduce the amount of anti-carcinogenic melatonin your body produces. In other words, the idea is that the light acts on your hormones through your eyes.

  15. …or will they compromise and demand that we all just sit in the dark?

    Quite possibly. That would allow them to address a cancer hazard, energy consumption, and the more nebulous issues of light pollution and habitat degradation all at once.

    Except it would provide hiding places for criminals, and women and children would particularly suffer…

    Watch their heads explode trying to spin this one…

    Correlation isn’t causation.

    No, but that’s never stopped the hysterics before now.

  16. Why pick of CFLs when most work places are bathed in regular FLs ?

    Seems like Reason has a knee-jerk opposition to CFLs.

  17. Yeah, without RTFA I figured it was a hormonal argument – I just felt like being difficult this morning 🙂

    I’m very upset at the prospect of being forced to use CFLs in the future. Between the flickering and the buzzing and now the havoc they will apparently play on my hormones, I may have to stock up on candlewax and oil lamps to save myself.

  18. If you don’t like the flickering, switch to DC power.

  19. Do CFLs even flicker anymore? I haven’t seen any FLs flicker in years. They all seem to be run at a higher, and imperceptible, frequency these days.

  20. Modern CFLs flicker at 20,000 Hz.

  21. I don’t know if anyone has mentioned this, but correlation is not causation.

  22. This seems shaky at best. However, it’s perfectly logical to oppose laws requiring the use of CFLs even if they don’t cause cancer.

  23. Everything gives you cancer
    There’s no cure, there’s no answer

  24. Yeah, woofyman makes a good point: Most places of business already use fluorescent lights to keep the electric bill low. Why all the hating on the compact versions?

    I mean, yeah, I get that some lawmakers want to impose CLFs in place of incandescents, and of course I’m opposed to this. But all this hating on CFLs and no mention of the fluorescent lights that businesses run all day long.

    Also, what RC said: I only read the synopsis, but if this study is about outdoor lighting, then I wonder how much relevance that really has to indoor fluorescent lights. How much time do people spend under streetlights vs. indoor lights? Yes, I know that the study controlled for a variety of neighborhood-related factors, but I still wonder about the inferences drawn.

    I need to look at the original study.

  25. CFL boosters: Calm down. We have installed several ourselves. And yes, I mentioned CFLs because they and their ilk are being mandated by Congress.

  26. How much time do people spend under streetlights vs. indoor lights?

    In the condo I used to own my bedroom looked out onto the alley. I made that room the bedroom because there was less street light and less noise.

    Two years later the city went on some outrageous safety campaign which essentially tripled the intesity of the light in alleys. Alley lights became much much brighter than the street lights. It was so obnoxious I moved my bed to the room that faced the street because it was darker and I could sleep better. But I had to put up with the street noise.

    I moved out of the city a couple years later.

  27. or will they compromise and demand that we all just sit in the dark?

    Don’t be silly. That’s what soy candles are for.

  28. Yeah, calm down, silly CFL boosters! Sure, this is the 10,000th idiotic environmental gotcha post Ron has written highlighting some inconsequential study — but just chill out!

    Also, environmentalists are dumb and don’t understand economics. Ha ha! Stupid environmentalists!

  29. Why all the hating on the compact versions?

    Because sane people have that reaction to being forced to do something “for their own good.”

  30. I think the sun is behind this study. Did it pay the researchers? Well, they are from the middle east, where the sun light is abundant and flushing them with warmth.

  31. I told you, the whole “Hey, Pro! Why not run up that mountain and steal fire from the gods?!” thing was not the most well thought-through plan at the outset.

    shoo bird! shoo!! Ahhhhhgg.

  32. These “scientists” are all just shills for Big-Luminescence

  33. SugarFree | February 20, 2008, 11:24am | #

    Don’t be silly. That’s what soy candles are for.

    Uh, Hell-ooooo? RECYCLED soy candles, Mr “i can afford fancy fresh-soy lighting”

  34. It’s all part of the Green Master Plan. People cause global warming. Breast cancer kills women who produce humans. No more humans = no more global warming.

    Problem solved.

  35. At certain times of heightened sensitivity, yes I can see them flicker…. and I can always hear them.

    And yes, my workplace like most is lit with fluorescents. Fortunately, we also have huge windows – but when it’s cloudy out and there’s no natural light to cancel out the buzzy fluorescence, I have to wear my sunglasses to keep the migraines at bay.

    It’s just a personal gripe that, someday, I’ll remedy when I have my own office.

    sorry for the whiny threadjack

  36. The possible relationship between the CFLs isn’t as silly as it first sounds.

    Breast cancer is very sensitive hormone levels and it has been known for decades that total length of exposure to light alters female hormone production. Blind girls enter puberty significantly later than do sighted girls and girls with exposure to artificial lighting enter puberty earlier even if we control for other factors.

    The key factor here is the wavelength distribution of the light source and duration of exposure to light levels beyond a certain luminosity threshold. In effect, artificial lighting lengthens the brains perception of the daylight thus throwing off some internal regulator.

    Until recently, most people experienced florescent lighting largely during daylight hours in institutional settings but had overwhelmingly incandescent lighting at home. If florescent wavelength distribution does more profoundly effect hormone levels that incandescent, then it is theoretically possible that the spread of CFLs could cause an uptick in breast cancer.

  37. In Ron’s defense, the article says:

    The body produces melatonin primarily at night, and levels drop precipitously in the presence of light, especially light in the blue part of the spectrum produced in quantity by computer screens and fluorescent bulbs.

    — and —

    Abraham Haim, a University of Haifa chronobiologist involved in the study, said the findings raise questions about the recent push to switch to energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs, which suppress melatonin production more than conventional incandescent bulbs.

    Picking on a law requiring the replacement of incandescents at home with CFLs seems perfectly appropriate.

  38. Shannon-

    That’s certainly plausible, but as I understand it the study mostly looked at outdoor illumination at night. Outdoor lights are generally dimmer than indoor lights, and people spend a lot of their evenings indoors.

    R C-

    Yeah, I get the hate on CFL mandates. I don’t get the hate on the bulbs themselves. Love the bulb, hate the mandate (to steal a phrase from the Baptists).

  39. I love compact fluorescents. I’ve had to change one light bulb in about 5 years. True, their light is a bit whiter than incandescents, but I’m used to it. And they use a lot less electricity.

    P.S. The government mandates suck. Agreed.

  40. Or, hate the bulb too, but why is the hate focused on the home bulbs and not the bulbs at the office? Is it because the bulbs at the office were chosen by the corporations (in their corporation buildings, doing their corporation thing, to steal a line from Team America) to save money?

  41. What I don’t understand is the clothing stores that use fluorescents in their stores. Who wants to go trying on clothes and find out they look like they just crawled out of a grave?

    I have much contempt for workplace lighting. I would be perfectly happy with my computer monitors and whatever minimal daylight comes in through the windows.

  42. I think the analysis works something like this:

    Business owner puts fluorescents in office to save money on electricity: Ah, a savvy capitalist! Peace and blessings be upon him!

    Home owner puts fluorescents in home to save money on electricity: Goddamn hippie just hates the electric company!

  43. thoreau,

    …but as I understand it the study mostly looked at outdoor illumination at night.

    As I read it, the study made two separate measurements. First, it measured the effects of florescent lighting on breast cancer and found a correlation. Second, they measured the correlation of street lighting and breast cancer. I presume they used street lighting a convenient proxy measurement for total lighting. After all, neighborhoods with good street lighting usually have houses with lots of lighting as well.

    I believe they infer from combing both measurements that substituting CFLs for incandescents would raise overall exposure to to florescent lighting and thus potentially raise breast cancer rates.

    IIRC, researchers studying the correlation between artificial lighting and onset of puberty determined that it was the artificial lengthening of the day that triggered the effect. In other words, artificial lighting during daylight hours had no effect but the light in ones bedroom did. If the same effect applies to florescents then changing over home lighting in mass could have a significant risk over the total population.

  44. Correlation is causation. As proof, I offer up test scores for students. It is a known fact that chillen who ride the long school bus have higher test scores than those who ride in on the shorter bus.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go work on solving this cancer thing. What I’ve found so far is a direct relationsip to living a shorter life. However, I cannot stress enough my work is only preliminary. My team has also uncovered evidence individuals who engage in dangerous sports such as volcano diving die from cancer less frequently than those who engage in otherwise safer activities.

  45. Yeah, I get the hate on CFL mandates. I don’t get the hate on the bulbs themselves.

    One you get a good hate going, its hard to rein it in.

    Or so I’m told.

  46. This is the same Ron Bailey who keeps telling us that the studies showing cancer risks from synthetic chemicals are phony, right?

    Dude’s picture should be in the dictionary next to “confirmation bias.”

    One study, Ron, and you’re getting your fanbois wound up about a cancer scare?

    Oops, looks like not even the fanbois are willing to back you up on this one.

  47. And yes, I mentioned CFLs because they and their ilk are being mandated by Congress.

    That reads an awful lot like Ron Bailey admitting he will pass on obviously unreliable information for political purposes.

    But, hopefully, you’ve figured that out already.

  48. I know it’s been a couple of years since I first read of studies showing that blind women are less likely to get breast cancer. The idea that illumination effects hormones doesn’t sound at all far-fetched, nor does the notion that maybe Congress ought to think about the implications before arrogantly instituting a blanket ban of a century-old technology.

    Meanwhile, I’m stockpiling incandescents.

  49. How is “fanbois” pronounced? Does the second syllable rhyme with “gras” in “foie gras”?

    With regard to the study: It sounds like thin stuff, but newspaper accounts of scientific research rarely do a good job of explaining what the researchers actually did.

    And, yeah, I gotta admit, it is kind of interesting to see Ron talking about a possible cancer scare from a consumer product. But only the version of the product sold for home use. The long fluorescent tubes used in offices to save money on electricity bills and protect the corporate bottom line don’t get any hate. Just the stuff that people might buy for their homes because they’re worried about the environment.

    I have discovered that t-shirts with environmental slogans cause cancer, but t-shirts with corporate logos don’t. I have a study with some clear correlations, which obviously imply causation….

  50. Meanwhile, I’m stockpiling incandescents.

    I’m learning to solder so I can use leds everywhere. Take that, bulb pushers!

  51. it is kind of interesting to see Ron talking about a possible cancer scare from a consumer product. But only the version of the product sold for home use.

    Since the issue is “artificial light at night” I don’t see how office fluorescents matter, since most people work in offices during the daylight hours, whereas most at-home illumination is (obviously) done at night.

  52. thoreau,

    The long fluorescent tubes used in offices to save money on electricity bills and protect the corporate bottom line don’t get any hate. Just the stuff that people might buy for their homes because they’re worried about the environment.

    Lighting that is used during daylight working hours won’t contribute to the problem.

    However, I will admit that I find amusement in the idea that the same people who have built vast corporate and political empires on hysterical fears of cancer from minute traces of chemicals and radiation will find themselves mandating under penalty of law the use of a new technology that might be much, much worse.

    One of the great dangers of all sweeping government action is that it destroys the slow introduction period in a products natural life cycle in which we might determine harm before it spreads to widely. The Thalidomide tragedy effected Europe much more than the US in large part because the socialized health care systems mandated its use in their protocols. If the adoption had occurred slowly in the market, the
    teratogenic effect might have been noticed sooner.

  53. How is “fanbois” pronounced? Does the second syllable rhyme with “gras” in “foie gras”?

    thoreau – pronounced “boys” from the urban dictionary – a slang term for “fag” “queer”

    This spelling of the word originated in a gay magazine called, “XY

  54. Everything either gives you cancer or heart diseas. Why can’t we discover something cool for once, like a lightbulb that makes boobs get bigger and perkier?

    God sucks.

  55. Look, it may be that exposure to fluorescent lights during day hours in a windowless workplace doesn’t have the same hormonal effects or whatever, due to circadian rhythms and all that. Maybe exposure to fluorescent lights only matters to human health during evening hours. For all I know, it could be the case.

    It’s just fascinating that when a newspaper article describes a study suggesting a link between fluorescent light exposure and cancer, people here are all over that, particularly in regard to CFL lights at home. But not a peep about exposure in the workplace.

    At the very least, I was expecting “Obviously there’s no need to consider the workplace safety implications of this study because in a free market employers will have to offer incandescent lighting in order to compete for talent.” I mean, come on, can a guy at least get a token “DEMAND KURVE!”?

  56. joe,

    This is the same Ron Bailey who keeps telling us that the studies showing cancer risks from synthetic chemicals are phony, right?

    We know such risk are phony today because our chemical exposure has increased by several orders of magnitude in the last 50 years yet cancers rates have remained constant or fallen. Likewise cancer rates predicted by mass dose or cellular assays do not occur based on known exposure which proves that these carcinogenic measuring tools are not very useful.

    Yet, in the immediate post wwII era we had no way of knowing that would be true yet government in thrall to the idea of government managed technophillia, especially on the Left, enthusiastically pushed novel new chemicals into people’s food and environments. Things could have turned out much differently.

  57. My office has plenty of windows, I keep a crystal incandescent lamp on my desk, and several months I had the janitor remove the bulbs from the fluorescent lights directly over my desk. Once the incandescent ban kicks in, my desk lamp will give me awesoome Alt Cred.

  58. “several months AGO.” Bleah.

  59. thorue

    It’s just fascinating that when a newspaper article describes a study suggesting a link between fluorescent light exposure and cancer, people here are all over that, particularly in regard to CFL lights at home. But not a peep about exposure in the workplace.

    I think most people are keying off the very real possibility that the State may soon mandate the use of fluorescents in people’s home’s whether they want them or not. People will tolerate things in public, even dangers, that they will not in their home.

  60. …might be much, much worse

    Ohnoes! Might be?

  61. We know such risk are phony today because our chemical exposure has increased by several orders of magnitude in the last 50 years yet cancers rates have remained constant or fallen.

    In the real world, both epidemiological studies of human populations and lab studies of the effects of various substances – from taululine to vinyle chloride – have demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that some synthetic chemicals cause cancer risks. And yet you ignore all of them, somehow managing not to know anything about them, while you swallow this one, single study, which has no experimental data behind whatsoever, as well as no investigations of human populations which back up its results.

    Second, the overall rate of cancer tells us absolutely nothing about the cancer-causing effects of different chemicals, since some cancers have been shown to be increased by chemical exposure, while others have not. The large decrease in overall cancer rates that has occured over the past four decades or so is almost entirely the consequence of reductions in tobacco use, and the spread of refridgeration reducing the consumption of cured and smoked meats.

  62. For all I know, this report could be true, these risks could be real, and liberals like joe could be wrong about all of the other risks ever reported before this.

    Still, it’s just fascinating the way that selective skepticism works.

  63. joe,

    In the real world, both epidemiological studies of human populations and lab studies of the effects of various substances – from taululine to vinyle chloride – have demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that some synthetic chemicals cause cancer risks.

    I don’t argue that they don’t poise a risk. I just argue that given the real world exposure that people receive the possible harm is wildly exaggerated. The FDA determined that excluding cigarettes, only 2% of all cancers result form any all exposure to manmade sources including radiation (like structure trapped radon).

    …while you swallow this one, single study…

    I didn’t swallow anything, I merely pointed out that a plausible mechanism might exist. I’ve got CFLs all throughout my house and I don’t plan to rip them down anytime soon.

    Second, the overall rate of cancer tells us absolutely nothing about the cancer-causing effects of different chemicals, since some cancers have been shown to be increased by chemical exposure, while others have not.

    Since we know (1) the predicted cancer risked based on standard assay technology and (2) the overall environmental exposure we can predict what the cancer rates should be for most specific cancers linked to specific chemicals. The cancers we should see from chemical exposure don’t show up. Therefore, we can question the predictive value of the assays themselves.

    The large decrease in overall cancer rates that has occured over the past four decades or so is almost entirely the consequence of reductions in tobacco use…

    Except I’m talking about rates excluding tobacco.

    and the spread of refridgeration reducing the consumption of cured and smoked meats.

    Well that’s one theory except that cancers of the stomach are as high in undeveloped countries as they used to be in the west when people wolfed down nitrates even in cultures that don’t eat preserved meats. A better explanation in the powerful anti-oxidant effects of common preservatives in processed foods.

    Fear mongering chemicals is now a major political force and a multi-billion dollar industry. Both recipes for bad government decision making.

  64. Has anyone, including Ron Bailey, accepted the conclusions of this study?

    My impression is that it was simply presented for consideration due to the fact that it might be interesting, especially in light of widespread pressure for mandating CFLs.

    Of course, joe would never let the fact that Ron Bailey never wrote “oh noes, CFBs cause cancer” get in the way of a little Baileyhate.

  65. Shannon,

    That’s a much more responsible statement than you originally wrote, which was We know such risk are phony today because our chemical exposure has increased by several orders of magnitude in the last 50 years yet cancers rates have remained constant or fallen. No, the risk of chemically-induced cancers is not “phony.” That’s why there are such strict workplace safety regimes for dealing with them, as well as such high cancer rates in Louisiana’s “Cancer Ally,” where exposure to synthetic chemicals is so much higher than among the population at large.

    I didn’t swallow anything, I merely pointed out that a plausible mechanism might exist. Just as plausible a mechanism – in fact, one that has been demonstrated to work – existes for the tetragenic effect of synthetic chemicals.

  66. Isaac, would you likek to buy a bridge?

    Clearly, Bailey’s only interest is in light-bulb technology. Only a real meany would put this latest post in any sort of context.

  67. So, Congress is forcing the CFL on us real Americans. There is no way we’ll accept a football field played with a 55 yard line, 12 men to a side, and only 3 downs to make 10 yards.

  68. joe: Can you spell I-R-O-N-Y?

  69. don’t you get a flourescent light coming off t.v.? is there any suggestion watching t.v. late at night causes cancer?

  70. This investigation is important but it is neccessary more research about this.

  71. now think abou this…

    the neighbor hoods with more light have higher rate… now shouldn’t that make sense? more light means more poeple.. less light means less peaople..

  72. With many new announcement about the wizard of oz movies in the news, you might want to consider starting to obtain Wizard of Oz book series either as collectible or investment at RareOzBooks.com.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.