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The dark side of LEDs: Some colored lights contain lead

February 9, 2011 |  9:50 am


As the light from incandescent bulbs dims in the face of their impending phase-out, new concerns are being raised about the hazardous materials contained in some of their more energy-efficient replacements, such as light-emitting diodes or LEDs.

While LEDs consume a fraction of the energy of incandescents and last exponentially longer, some colored LEDs may contain lead, according to Potential Environmental Impacts of Light-Emitting Diodes, a new study by UC Irvine published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Technology.

The study tested low- and high-intensity LEDs in red, yellow, green, blue and white. Low-intensity red LEDs, commonly used in Christmas lights and traffic applications, contained eight times more lead than California law allows, the study found. High-intensity red, low-intensity yellow and low-intensity green LEDs also contained lead but in far lower quantities. The study did not find lead in any of the blue or white LEDs.

Lead is used in certain LEDs as an alloy metal to solder together interior components.

"The policy to eliminate incandescent light bulbs is in part because of the concern about climate change, but we've been concerned that we're not looking too closely at the risks that we're trading with the introduction of these new lighting technologies," said Oladele Ogunseitan, chair of UCI's department of population health and disease prevention, which conducted the research with grant money from the National Science Foundation.

"LEDs have become very, very prominent in many different consumer products. As a country we should probably make some recommendations to the manufacturers in terms of what risks will be acceptable and not acceptable as we move toward more energy-efficient products."

Ogunseitan said the goal of the study was to characterize the risks associated with LEDs before "they inevitably take over the energy and lighting world," he said. Those risks include the workers who are exposed to toxic materials during the manufacture of LEDs, consumers who may break them, children who may chew on them and emergency responders to traffic accidents, as well as landfill workers.


California phasing out 100-watt incandescent light bulbs

IKEA stops selling incandescent light bulbs

Toxic chemical rules are on Governor Brown's agenda 

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: LED Christmas lights. Credit: Carlos Chavez / Los Angeles Times