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Tracyton woman says she doesn’t want to see the (CFL) light

CFL bulbs have negatively affected Joan and Gene Jewett. - Leslie Kelly
CFL bulbs have negatively affected Joan and Gene Jewett.
— image credit: Leslie Kelly

It was supposed to be a nice evening out at the Olive Garden for dinner with her husband and friends. But after being seated at their table, Joan Jewett began feeling dizzy and shaky. She knew right away what was wrong.

Sure enough. The restaurant recently had switched its lighting to those corkscrew-looking small compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs, the kind that make her sick.

“We went to dinner there because I knew it was safe — that they didn’t have the CFLs,” said Jewett. “But since the last time we’d been there, they’d switched. My husband got up and checked and right then we had to leave.”

It’s only been since mid September that Jewett has known what’s been making her feel sick. She’s had problems and symptoms for more than seven months, but had a tough time nailing it down.

At first, she worried that she might have brain tumor because of the dizziness and the shakiness she was often experiencing.

“I’ve been healthy all my life,” said Jewett, who doesn’t tell her age but says it’s “somewhere between 50 and 70.”

She went to her doctor and had a battery of tests that all turned out normal. She thought it might be anxiety, but her doctor said her symptoms didn’t match up with that. She continued to have symptoms.

“I have very narrow eustachian tubes in my ears and I’ve always had some problems when the barometric pressure changes,” she said. “But this was way worse and it was lasting for days at a time.”

She decided to see a specialist — an ear, nose and throat doctor at the Polly Clinic in Seattle. It was there that she got her answer.

“He asked me if we had CFL bulbs in our house,” Jewett said. “I told him, ‘Yes, in the bathroom.’ He said, ‘Go home and get rid of them.’ ”

With her permission, Dr. Felix Chu confirmed he treated Jewett and that the CFLs were triggering her problems.

And, Dr. Dorie Erickson, a Silverdale nutritionist who saw Jewett, said the bulbs were contributing to Jewett’s health issues.

“It has been known for years that fluorescent bulbs can cause vision problems as well as energy depletion, headaches and anxiety,” Erickson said. “I am not at all surprised at the reaction she has from these lights.”

Once those bulbs were removed from her bathroom, Jewett noticed her symptoms went away. She began researching CFLs on the Internet and found that there were others who reacted to CFLs the same way she did.

“What I’ve found is that they can affect your central nervous system,” she said. “There’s about a third of the population that can be negatively affected by them.”

While scientific studies vary on the good and bad of these bulbs, some studies have shown that the compact fluorescent bulbs vibrate with about 100 cycles per second, whereas a normal bulb is at a rate of about 60 cycles per second. It’s the added blinking that can affect some people, especially those who are susceptible to migraines, vision issues, or have a history of seizures, according to www.cflimpact.com.

Gene Jewett, Joan’s husband, had replaced the bathroom light bulbs with the new CFLs, he said, because they stayed cooler and he was afraid of the glass in the light fixtures breaking from the heat of other types of bulbs. He is a former Marine and worked for years as a painter in the Bremerton Naval Shipyard.

“Once we knew better, we got them (CFLs) out and we’ve gone back to the 75-watt soft white light bulbs,” he said.

The couple has spent “some money” putting in new light fixtures and taking out any and all fluorescent lighting in their Tracyton home where they’ve lived since 1965.

They’ve continued to study the CFLs and will talk to anyone who will listen about the health problems Joan has seen from using them.

And, because the regular old-fashioned bulbs are being phased out and are hard to find, the Jewetts are buying them up whenever they see them and they are ordering all they can online.

Joan, who worked as a medical transcriptionist, tries to stay away from places where the CFLs are used, but she sometimes finds that hard.

“Just the other day I went to see my ophthalmologist,” she said. “I was waiting for my appointment and I started to get that light-headed feeling. We checked and they had changed to those bulbs.”

Her husband had to take her home “almost carrying me because I couldn’t walk — my legs were shaking,” she said. “This has pretty much ruined my life.”

While Jewett can control her environment somewhat, it’s hard to do when she’s out and about. She knows which shops she can go into. But there’s always the chance that stores have changed their lighting.

Her husband said the CFLs are now being put inside of what appears to look like an old-fashioned light bulb, so it’s harder to determine right off if a place is using CFLs.

“What I have to do is put on my sunglasses and look at the lights,” he said. “I can see then if there’s a CFL inside of the other bulb.”

Often, she will send her husband in to check out the lighting before she goes into a store or a restaurant.

Through their research, the Jewetts have learned that CFLs also can leak blue light that can affect the retina and may cause damage. And, like all fluorescents, the CFLs contain mercury which is poisonous if the bulb breaks.

“Some places are using the LED lights instead of the CFLs,” Gene Jewett said. “But even those can damage the eye.”

After Jewett is exposed to the CFLs, it can take up to three or four days for her equilibrium to return.

“This is something that came way out of the blue for me,” she said. “I’ve lived in this area all my life and I’ve always been healthy and active and never had anything but good health. It’s just taken the life out of me.”

 

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