Are LED Lights Safe?

Your LED Christmas lights might break and leak mercury.
Your LED Christmas lights might break and leak mercury. (Image: Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

LED lights are being recommended as energy-saving replacements for incandescent bulbs. Incandescent bulbs, therefore, would appear to be on their way out of the consumer home to reduce household expenses. But energy isn't the only factor when determining which bulb to use in your home: you also have to consider its safety. And LED lights have some safety issues associated with them, according to CNET News.

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Contains Harmful Metals

LED lights contain potentially dangerous metals that can be very harmful to humans if they are exposed to them. Lead and arsenic are toxic materials found in some LED Christmas lights, as well as car brakes and headlights, according to CNET News. In fact, the University of California, Irvine, conducted a study that determined that some red, low-intensity LED lights possessed as much as eight times the level of lead allowed by California standards, and 35 times the level allowed by federal regulations.

Breakage Exposure

LED lights are potentially unsafe to you and the environment if you are exposed to the hazardous waste they can contain. When a light-emitting diode light breaks — such as when there is a vehicle collision — lead, arsenic or copper could escape, according to CNET News. So those dispatched to clean up such scenes should wear protective gear. Masks and gloves should also be worn when cleaning up breakage of LED lights in the home. According to University of California, Irvine, lead and arsenic — and other metals found in LED bulbs, and the other components of these lights — have already been linked to kidney disease, hypertension, neurological damage and different types of cancers.

Disposal Exposure

Improperly disposing of broken LEDs that no longer have a useful life also pose safety risks. They still can contain lead, arsenic or other harmful metals even though they no longer work enough to light your home or office. That remaining metal still has the potential to be hazardous to you and the surrounding environment. For example, copper — which is found in some LED lights — poses a danger to fish, lakes and rivers, according to University of California, Irvine. But LED lights are not currently classified as toxic, and they are disposed of in landfills despite their potential for harm.

Significance

Advanced testing of products for environmental health impact should precede their introduction as an alternative product, such as LED lights in place of incandescent bulbs, according to Oladele Ogunseitan, the chair of UC Irvine's Department of Population Health & Disease Prevention. "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 replacement," Ogunseitan said.

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