Migraines and Light Bulbs: What can we expect from new legal standards?

More people are using compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) every day because they have some great features. They are energy efficient and don't need to changed often. Even though they cost more up front, they last longer than incandescent light bulbs, saving money in the long run. You certainly don't need to be a tree hugging hippie to see their benefits.

Unfortunately they can trigger migraine attacks (and cause problems for people with epilepsy and certain skin conditions). So while the goal of reducing energy use is noble and good, increasing the pain and suffering of vulnerable people is a questionable trade off. Migraine patients (and others) will still need access to the old standard, incandescent light bulbs, which may soon be unavailable because most of them do not currently meet the minimum energy standards required by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Under this law light bulbs of any kind must use 30% less energy by 2014 and 70% less energy by 2020. While there are certain exceptions for bulbs like appliances or or bug zappers, most incandescent bulbs we use now would no longer be manufactured. The good news is that incandescent manufacturers are hard at work adapting their products.

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) says at least two companies, Philips and GE, are working on adapting their technology to meet the energy efficiency standards. Philips has already introduced an energy saver incandescent bulb, the Halogena Energy Saver, which reportedly already meets the 2014 minimum standard for staying on the market. Philips says they use 30% less energy than regular incandescent light bulbs. They are not as efficient as CFLs, but are a big step forward from previous incandescent bulbs. GE has said their goal is to develop a bulb that uses half the energy of their old incandescent bulbs by 2010 and a quarter of the energy of their older bulbs by 2014. In February 2007 GE had announced plans to develop what they called a high efficiency incandescent, but by October 2007 they had stopped working on the product for unknown reasons. The CRS report wasn't written until February 2008, so hopefully GE is still working on some kind of efficient incandescent option despite stopping work on the other project. According to the New York Times Osram Sylvania is also working to increase the energy efficiency of their incandescent products.

I've read article after article over the past few years asking why it's worth bothering to update incandescent light bulbs when we already have the super fantastic CFLs available. It's a simple answer: people living with migraines and epilepsy. CFLs are an easy choice for most people. But for those who are negatively affected by CFLs, updated incandescents will allow them to live comfortably and decrease their energy use at the same time. Ultimately that's what really matters, not what form energy efficient light bulbs take.

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