Monday, February 14, 2011

LEDs Filled with Toxic Substances, Study Says


LED lighting is considered to be the most efficient form of artificial illumination and even beats out the best and most efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs. LEDs have been used since the 1960s and 70s and today they are used in everything from streetlights to laptop and television displays to holiday string lights. LEDs have long been the most efficient option and many manufacturers and companies market the LED bulbs as an environmentally friendly option. But a current study from the University of California-Irvine shows that the environmental benefits of LED lighting is offset by the potentially hazardous substances, including arsenic, found in the bulbs. Researchers from University of California-Irvine's School of Social Ecology and Program in Public Health analyzed red, yellow, green, and blue LEDs in low and high intensities to see the composition of each. They chose lights that would commonly be found on the typical Christmas tree lights and then ground up the contents of each bulb in order to analyze the different substances, specifically a wide range of heavy metals.

In the LEDs, the researchers found toxic chemicals including antimony, arsenic, chromium, and lead, as well as numerous other metals. In some cases, the amount of element was well over the regulation limit. In the low intensity red LEDs, researchers found the lead content was over 8 times the regulatory limit and the nickel content was approximately two and a half times over the limit as well.

Under environmental regulations in the State of California, most LEDs would be classified as hazardous waste and if disposed of in a standard landfill could easily leach into soil and groundwater, causing greater problems. Additionally, damaged LEDs could pose health risks to those handling them and having direct contact with the toxic substances. Unlike incandescent light bulbs, which are widely accepted to be an environmental and health hazard, LEDs fall into the area of discrepancy between state and federal regulations. In California, hazardous waste regulations are extremely strict, but federal EPA standards are more lax so many companies only have to abide by the federal minimum. In terms of the federal EPA standards, many of the LEDs in the study would not require any specialized disposal.

The study determined that arsenic, lead, nickel, and copper would have the greatest impact on human and ecological health due to their ability to bioaccumulate. Researchers stated that further research should be conducted by individual developers and manufacturers of LED products in order to produce the safest products possible for both consumers and the environment after their use. Finally, the study emphasized the fact that while LEDs are incredibly efficient, they are not completely environmentally friendly and simply carry different environmental and health risks than their counterparts.

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