A study by UC Irvine’s Department of Population Health & Disease Prevention has discovered that LED diodes contain unsafe levels of carcinogenic toxins. While LED’s less energy friendly cousin’s, CFLs, contain a measured amount of mercury, LEDs are laden with lead, arsenic and a handful of other chemicals that have been linked to different cancers, neurological damage, kidney disease, hypertension, skin rashes and other serious illnesses. Not only are these chemicals harmful to consumers if the bulbs are mishandled or broken, but extracting those toxins from the earth is a destructive process.
“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,” Oladele Ogunseitan said — Ogunseitan is the chair of UC Irvine’s Department of Population Health & Disease Prevention that discovered the toxins. “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.”
The researchers crunched, leached and measured LED diodes large and small and found the larger the product the more toxins it contained. However, just the low intensity red-colored LEDs contained eight times the level of lead allowed under California state law. The bulbs also contain a small amount of copper — the extraction and refining process of copper is extremely destructive to streams, rivers and lakes around the world. The researchers noted that one exposure to a broken diode probably won’t cause cancer but could be a tipping point. They also noted that first responders arriving to scenes of broken LED traffic lights and car head lights on a regular basis should treat the chemicals as hazardous waste and wear proper protection. Though LEDs are difficult to break — it would be hard for you to fracture your new efficient holiday lighting — those included in vehicles and traffic lights could pose a greater risk of breaking due to the high speed accidents they can be involved in.