Unshielded fluorescent lamps and skin cancer risk

While ultraviolet radiation exposure from unshielded fluorescent lamps is small compared to that from sunlight, a recent FDA study estimates that exposure from unshielded lamps could cause 1,500 new U.S. cases of squamous cell skin cancer a year. For comparison, sun exposure annually causes 110,000 U.S. cases of squamous cell skin cancer.

Lamp exposure in an eight-hour workday is equivalent, for example, to 1.2 minutes of sun exposure on a clear day in July in Washington, D.C., according to researchers at FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, who conducted the study using a mathematical model based on human population-disease data.

The study estimated that for indoor workers exposed to unshielded lamps over their work lifetime (equivalent to exposure eight hours a day for 50 years), the cumulative UV dose may increase their lifetime risk of squamous cell cancer by 4 percent. (Because recent data indicate that long-term UV exposure may apply only to squamous cell cancer, the study didn't include other types of skin cancer.)

Use of acrylic diffusers on lamp fixtures can prevent this unnecessary risk for individuals who want to avoid UV exposure. Diffusers remove most UV radiation without reducing visible light. Some diffusers actually improve illumination by directing the light where it's needed.

PHOTO: Drawing of a person under an unshielded flourescent lamp.

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