Christmas lights, car headlights and traffic signals sold as environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional light bulbs actually contain lead and other toxic ingredients, according to results of a recently released UCI study.

Light-emitting diodes or LEDs should be considered a health hazard, said the report led by Oladele Ogunseitan, chair of UC Irvine’s Department of Population Health & Disease Prevention.

“When bulbs break at home,” said a news release announcing the findings, “residents should sweep them up with a special broom while wearing gloves and a mask. … Crews dispatched to clean up car crashes or broken traffic fixtures should don protective gear and handle the material as hazardous waste.”

Ogunseitan has forwarded the study results to California and federal health regulators and said in the news release the diode lights “weren’t properly tested before being marketed as the preferred alternative to inefficient incandescent bulbs, now being phased out under California law.”

The UCI team tested strings of Christmas lights, red, yellow and green traffic lights and auto head lights and brake lights. The news release said they determined that “low-intensity red lights contained up to eight times the amount of lead allowed under California law, but in general, high-intensity, brighter bulbs had more contaminants than lower ones. White bulbs had the least lead, but contained high amounts of nickel.”

In an article in the January issue of Environmental Science & Technology, the UCI team wrote “we find the low-intensity red LEDs exhibit significant cancer and noncancer potentials due to the high content of arsenic and lead.”

According to the news release “risks are present in all parts of the lights and at every stage during production, use and disposal.”

It said a “long-planned state regulation” originally set to take effect Jan. 1 would have required advance testing of products like the LED lights which are supposed to replace mercury-containing compact fluorescent bulbs. But the UCI release said the regulation was opposed by “industry groups, a less stringent version was substituted, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger placed the law on hold days before he left office.”


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