Some LED lights spark concern over toxins

Because it’s energy-efficient, LED lighting is spreading into new areas, but an academic study cautions that some types of LED lights use hazardous metals.

The University of California at Irvine last week published results of a study into the materials used for LEDs in Christmas tree lights and car brake lights and headlights. After crushing these types of lights, researchers measured the contents and found they contained varying amounts of toxic materials, including lead and arsenic.

“What our study showed clearly was that some LED lights qualify as hazardous waste, depending on color and light intensity, according to federal (US EPA) regulations, and State (California) regulations. The red, low intensity fixtures that we tested exceeded lead (Pb) standards for California regulation by about 8 times, and exceed the federal regulations by about 35 times,” said Oladele Ogunseitan, chair of UC Irvine’s Department of Population Health & Disease Prevention via e-mail.

Right now, these products are not classified as hazardous waste, but Ogunseitan recommended that people dispatched to clean up vehicle collisions use protective gear. Homeowners should also wear gloves and masks in the case of clean-up. The copper used in some LEDs can pose health hazards to river and lake ecosystems as well if disposed of in a landfill.

Ogunseitan said that the move to LED lighting is a case in which there should be mandatory product replacement testing. He claims that the potential environmental health impacts were not sufficiently tested before manufacturers put them in products as a replacement for incandescent bulbs.

Recycling recommended for large LEDs

Large LEDs bulbs with a screw-in bottom designed for home use are just coming onto the market as replacements for 40-watt or 60-watt incandescent bulbs. In addition to good efficiency and long life, these bulbs are marketed as an improvement over compact florescent bulbs because they don’t contain mercury. CFLs can be returned to many retail stores or municipal hazardous waste handling services for recycling.

When LED maker Cree introduced an LED bulb it expects to come out later this year, I asked about toxins and disposal. Cree vice president of marketing Greg Merritt said that there were no hazardous materials used in its bulb and that it is expected to comply with the ROHS European hazardous material directive.

UC Irvine’s Ogunseitan is testing large LED bulbs but has not yet published the results. “However, I can say that precautionary principle supports not throwing this in the regular trash for landfills,” he said.

Last month, I asked the Department of Energy about hazardous materials and large LED bulbs designed for home use. A representative said that, in general, these LED bulbs do not contain toxic chemicals in any significant amount. She added that consumers will face disposal only a few times in their lives given the long projected life of LEDs, which could be over 20 years, but it’s best for consumers to recycle them.

“That said, like most consumer electronics, at the end of their useful life, LEDs contain materials that are both valuable and recyclable. Where available, LEDs should be recycled using municipal recycling programs,” she said.

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Surfing in the dark with LED Lights

Australian big-wave surfer and extreme adventure junkie Mark Visser made history early Thursday by surfing Jaws off Maui in the dark.

It sounds like a suicide mission but Visser, 28, used specially engineered LED lighting built into his buoyancy vest and board for a surreal session in that began at about 2 a.m.  Wave face heights were about 30 feet.

Visser also had a jetski crew — he was towed onto the waves he rode — and helicopter crew watching over him. But as you can see in the video, he was surfing in almost total darkness.

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LED headlights can add 6 miles to an electric car’s range

The average electric vehicle’s battery pack has the energy equivalent of only 1-2 gallons of gas. If you had that much in your IC vehicle, you’d be looking for a gas station right about now. However, since electric motors are much more efficient than internal combustion engines, a decent range can still be obtained from these battery packs. One downside to going farther on less energy is that accessories such as lighting are about 10 times more detrimental to your range than they would be on a gasoline vehicle.

Jonathan Dunlap, the automotive lighting engineer and product marketing manager with OSRAM SYLVANIA, says that LED (light emitting diode) lighting can have a significant impact on an electric vehicle’s range. Over only that last 2-3 years, the efficiency of LEDs has increased to the point where LEDs use less than 25% the energy of halogen bulbs (and this will only get better in the coming years). So, how much extra range can an EV get by using today’s LED headlights?

According to Dunlap:An efficient LED headlamp system can extend vehicle range by nearly six miles (9.5 km). Even with conventional vehicles, a 28 watt LED system emits only 196 grams of carbon dioxide per 100 kilometers compared to 768 grams of carbon dioxide per 100 kilometers from conventional 110 watt H7 halogen bulbs.

LEDs have additional benefits such as extremely long life (50,000 hours is not uncommon) and vibration tolerance, meaning they can last the life of the car. The main hurdle at this point is getting upfront costs down

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