As Britain is switching over to fluorescent lamps in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, experts are warning some persons could be allergic to the new lighting system.
Doctors say scores of people are coming forward with skin complaints after being exposed to the ultra-violet light emitted by the new-style bulbs. And the mercury powder inside them makes handling a broken bulb extremely dangerous.
AdvertisementExposure to high levels of mercury can cause itching, burning, skin inflammation, kidney problems and insomnia.
Dr Robert Sarkany, a photodermatologist at St John's Institute of Dermatology, St Thomas' Hospital, in London, said: "Reactions to fluorescent lights are not well understood. But I am seeing regular handfuls of patients who are complaining of skin allergies when exposed to them, as are my colleagues.
"Common symptoms are severe stinging, burning and itching of the skin, along with red rash. We don't understand these symptoms well yet, but they do exist. I think it would be perfectly reasonable for people who suffer these very serious problems to still have access to traditional bulbs."
He backed calls by patient groups for the Government to give medical exemptions for those at risk.
Professor Hawk, Head of Department of Skin Sciences, Professor of Dermatology at St Johns Institute of Dermatology Medicine, Kings College, London, writes that it is "absolutely essential" that incandescent bulbs are retained for the use of light-sensitive people.
This means that GLS 100, 60, 40 and 25 watt bulbs need to be retained, as many light-sensitive people, when using incandescent bulbs, do not have a problem with the intensity of the light. They need adequate levels of lighting, just like anyone else. They also have the right to participate in the electrically-lit world outside their homes. Changes to street lighting will also severely discriminate and cause some people to be prisoners in their homes after dark. Some of these people have such severe conditions that they can only go out after dark, i.e. they cannot tolerated daylight.
Lupus sufferer Brenda Ryder, 56, of the Isle of Wight, said: "A total ban on incandescent lighting would be terrible for me."
But British shops have started clearing their shelves of traditional bulbs. Large retailers have already stopped selling conventional 100-watt bulbs, the most popular size.
They will be banned from September along with frosted 60-watt and 40-watt bulbs, followed by most others before 2012.
Shoppers will then be able to buy only halogen bulbs - which resemble normal bulbs but use 70 per cent of the energy - or compact fluorescent ones, which use just 30 per cent of the energy.
Although low-energy bulbs cut household electricity bills, the move has proved unpopular with shoppers.
Halogens are more expensive - costing around £1.99 each - while critics say the fluorescent type have an unattractive harsh light and take up to a minute to warm up to full strength.
There is another interesting angle to the issue. EU rules mean all old incandescent light bulbs must be phased out by 2012. But where will the discarded bulbs go?
Dr Michelle Bloor, of Ports mouth University, said: "If thousands of CFL bulbs were sent to landfill this could pose a problem. Mercury could leak and get into the food chain.
"Mercury cannot escape from an intact lamp. But people must try to avoid contact with it if they do break one.
"The problem is that many councils do not know the correct guidelines for disposing of the lamps. Only six out of 17 we spoke to knew the rules."
Alarming guidelines issued by the Government warn that anyone breaking a low-energy bulb should leave the room immediately.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), says on its website: "Vacate the room and ventilate it for at least 15 minutes.
"Do not use a vacuum cleaner but clean up using rubber gloves and aim to avoid creating and inhaling airborne dust.
The debris must be disposed of at a secure site for contaminated material or returned to the retailer."
Experimental and epidemiological research studies are required to establish the true extent of the problems and demonstrate that there are alternative low energy bulbs which can be tolerated by all groups who have had bad reactions to existing types, say activists of Spectrum, the Alliance for Light Sensitivity.