For most of my career I have been an advocate on behalf of causes that affect our health and well-being, ranging from the use of toxic pesticides and herbicides to growth hormones and antibiotics in milk to how the byproducts of the rendering industry impact the health of our pets. My newest mission in this regard is, you might say, to help enlighten people on the relationship of light to a healthier life, and even to our prospects for longevity.
The more I learn about the health effects of light, the more I am outraged about the way that both industry and government have attempted to coerce us all into acceptance of a misguided lighting technology that is definitely not in our best interest, either environmentally or healthwise. I’m talking about compact fluorescent lights or CFLs, those curly-shaped bulbs being touted as energy saving, long lasting and environmentally advantageous, when in reality their potential effects are astoundingly adverse.
First of all, there’s the issue of the mercury they contain — a hazard that, despite being downplayed by proponents, becomes glaringly apparent as soon as one reads the warnings attached to them, as well as representing a a potential long-term disposal nightmare.
Then there’s the kind of light they emit — a wavelength decidedly different from that given off by those old-fashioned incandescent bulbs that Thomas Edison perfected all those years ago, and that served us rather well for decades until they were suddenly “phased out” by government edict (more on that to come). Rather than the more traditional full-spectrum light with which incandescents glow, these CFLs tend toward the “blue light” side of the spectrum. This blue light, in effect, is signaling our bodies to wake up — the sun is shining and it is time to hunt for food and carry water — at times when nature has programmed us to tune down our level of alertness to properly prepare ourselves for the restorative power of sleep.
Now, when I go to a hotel and see the spiral of a CFL light on the nightstand, I know it’s not going to be conducive to my getting a good night’s sleep, and it upsets me. Quality sleep is necessary for our body to heal and is key to our overall health — and it’s one of the very things that the hospitality industry attempts to promote.
But what really has me upset these days is thinking about the impact all this is having on America’s children, who should be in the process of developing the sleep patterns they’ll need to become healthy, well-functioning adults — what’s known as “circadian rhythms” — but really can’t because they are being blasted with blue light from a number of sources, including CFLs, right up until bedtime (and beyond). This reminds me of the time I visited a strawberry field, only to have the manager of the farm caution me not to actually eat any of the strawberries because of the pesticides with which they were sprayed. I was so incensed by the thought that ripening fruit was being deliberately made too toxic to eat that it turned me into a champion of the then-fledgling organic movement, first becoming CEO of the New Organics Company and eventually chairman of The Organic Center and co-author of Chemical-Free Kids.
In the same spirit, I am now planning a new project called LightCues, which will inform the world about the dangers and negative impact of CFLs and the blue light they emit, and what individuals can do to eliminate those hazards and put themselves and their families in the right kind of light. Stay tuned.