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Saturday, January 05, 2008

Migraines, rashes, peer-reviewed science?

Dear BBC,

I am very disappointed that you have not asked for any peer-reviewed science to support the claims that compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) "worsen rashes" or "cause migraines".

These are very big and broad anecdotal claims, which have not been substantiated scientifically. Yet your headlines create the clear impression that the views expressed by individuals, interest groups and 'experts' can be treated as though they were robust statements of fact.

I run the Ban The Bulb campaign ( and have asked for carefully enforced evidence-based medical exemptions for two years (please see my campaign goals), yet I must report that I have not found, or been sent, any science which backs up the claims made by migraine sufferers.

It is well known that migraines can be caused by stress, food and daylight, so saying that CFLs are responsible for light-sensitive medical conditions, while ignoring all of the other everyday triggers is a significant claim to make and grossly unscientific.

It would not be difficult to conduct experiments which compared the effects of CFLs on control and experimental groups as part of a properly designed medical trial and to publish the results in the form of a peer-reviewed article within a credible journal.

Similarly, the claims that rashes are worsened by CFLs assumes that someone is using very outdated fluorescent tubes. Fortunately the technologies incorporated into a CFL have moved on since they were first made available in large numbers, over 30 years ago.

The Ban The Bulb campaign has asked for better information on the boxes of CFLs and for better procedures to recycle the 4-6mg of mercury contained within each lamp ever since the campaign was established (in Feb 2005) so I appreciate your highlighting of this issue.

Overall, however, I wish that you had applied the same rigour and sceptism to these medical claims as you have devoted to interrogating the science available for climate change.

Please see my articles for BBC News Online's Green Room if you want to find out about the positive environmental benefits of using low energy light bulbs, in terms of reducing greenhouse gas and mercury emissions into the atmosphere or why 30 countries have now agreed to phase out
the use of incandescent light bulbs.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Matt Prescott
Director, Ban The Bulb

Even the Today Programme enjoyed a good kick at the erstwhile low energy light bulb...

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