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Lighting and UV radiation: where do LEDs fit in?

Some industry sources claim that LEDs produce no UV radiation. This actually isn’t true. LEDs do produce a small amount of UV, but they emit even less. That’s because the amount that is produced is converted to white light by the phosphors inside the lamp.

So, why care about UV emissions?

Mostly because UV radiation occupies that part of the electromagnetic spectrum that forces us to slather on sunscreen in periods of peak sunlight. In high doses, UV causes sunburns, cataracts, and skin cancer. You’re not likely to suffer such effects from most artificial light sources, although a recent move to phase out incandescent lamps in Canada led one federal government department to assess whether UV radiation from CFLs exceeded current exposure guidelines. While the Natural Resources Canada study found that “at a distance of 30 cm, (and by extension greater distances), the bulbs do not pose a significant risk of acute injury to the eyes or skin, as compared to traditional incandescent lamps”, the study also recommends “…that single envelope CFLs not be used at distances less than 30 cm to avoid any long-term health effects in the general population.”

Unless you’re lighting your home, office, or factory with tanning-bed lamps, the main concern with certain lighting types—including CFLs and high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps—is that they emit enough UV to damage artwork and fabrics over time. High quality LEDs—thanks to their low UV emissions—are now the lighting type of choice for museums striving to protect treasured artifacts and maintain their original colors and patina. In commercial and residential applications, LEDs save carpets, window coverings, and painted surfaces from the degrading effects of UV radiation.

LEDs offer relief from another pesky problem—insects. UV light attracts insects. If you’ve ever seen—and heard—a black-light bug zapper at work, you know the strange command UV radiation seems to hold over insects. With virtually no UV emissions, LEDs do not attract bugs, and that’s made them popular in commercial food-service applications, residential kitchens, and exterior installations where it’s important to minimize the attraction of small flying pests.

Do you consider your application prior to selecting a lighting technology? Has UV radiation of various lighting technologies made an impact on your purchase?

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