Compact lamps unsafe? UVGuideUK brief update

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Compact lamps unsafe? UVGuideUK brief update

Postby lilacdragon » Fri Aug 21, 2009 7:36 am

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Hello, everyone.

I've been contacted by a member of Bearded Dragon.org who is rightly concerned that the general advice given here is giving people the impression that all compact lamps are somehow unsafe for bearded dragons.
Using the "search" tool, I've read several forum posts that certainly do give that impression.

Because of the problems, beginning in about 2007, associated with certain compact lamps - in the USA, just three brands, ZooMed Reptisun Compacts, R-Zilla Desert 50 Compacts (and more recently, Tropical 25 Compacts) and Big Apple Mystic Compacts (no longer sold) - a lot of people have become rather paranoid about them. There are now several websites where they seem to be advising people that NO compact lamps are safe!
But this is untrue - some are fine, and I use them myself in two of my small gecko set-ups.
Are they useful for lighting bearded dragon enclosures? Maybe not... but this isn't because they are "all unsafe". Please let me explain...

Some compact lamps, such as the Arcadia D3 7% and D3+ 10% Compact Reptile Lamps and the Lucky Reptile Compact UV Sun Lamps - all mainly available in Europe, have spectra which in the UVB region, are quite close to sunlight, with almost no very short-wavelength UVB and a steady increase in UV from about 295nm up to 315nm.
These are good lamps. You can get the Arcadia lamp from Drs Foster & Smith, in the USA, but I'm not sure if it's available from anywhere else.

The reasons I personally don't use these lamps which have more sun-like UVB spectra for my larger sun-basking lizards, including of course my beardies, or in large vivaria, have nothing to do with safety.

The UVB obtained from any good fluorescent lamp (tube or compact) is very weak compared to sunlight. At a reasonable basking distance, eg. 25 - 30cm (10" - 12") it rarely exceeds UV Index 1.0 with a brand new lamp. With many 5% tubes it does not even reach UV Index 0.4 - 0.5.
These levels are typical of the daytime UVB outdoors in the SHADE. This is very different from a UV Index of maybe 3.0 - 5.0 in full early morning sunlight anywhere in the world where reptiles are basking at the beginning of the day. To provide levels as high as that, you need a high quality mercury vapour lamp or metal halide over the basking area.

To my mind there are two ways of providing UVB to a reptile.
The first is the "shade method". You basically create a very large area in the vivarium (inhabited by the reptile for a considerable period of time each day - and including the basking area) with a UVB gradient that resembles UVB outdoors in the shade. (UV Index from zero to about 1.5 to 2.0)
I think this is probably ideal for crepuscular species or those which live in deep shade, and/or non-basking species. I think many sun-basking species such as bearded dragons can also survive quite successfully if they receive this low level of UVB over a large part of their body for long periods each day. I think it is also very wise to supplement occasionally with a vitamin or calcium powder containing vit D3, if using this method.
This sort of "background" UVB is most easily obtained by using long fluorescent tubes, extending halfway across an enclosure, from the warm end towards the cool end. These produce a large footprint of low-level UVB.

The second method is the "patch of sunlight" method. This involves supplying UVB with a steeper gradient, from zero to maybe UV Index 4.0 - 7.0, in the basking zone only. This mimics a beam of morning sunlight. It must of course be bigger than the reptile, so it can expose its whole body to heat, light and UVB all at once. But when not basking, the reptile then moves out of the gradient into shade which may have almost no UVB at all.
I think this method is more appropriate for sun-loving, basking species like bearded dragons, which thermoregulate by warming up in the morning then shuttling from sun to shade all day.
The "patch of sunlight" method requires a high-output UVB mercury vapour flood lamp or UVB-emitting metal halide over the basking spot. Basking temperatures must be adjusted using extra incandescent lamps if necessary, to keep the thermal gradient correct. Because you need a gradient from 100 - 110F under the lamp to 75 - 80F at the cool end, and this is vital for health, you can't use this method in a small tank. The whole thing gets too warm and the cool end loses its cool. I would estimate that it's very difficult to do this in anything smaller than 3ft wide, and you also need large ventilation panels to remove unwanted hot air.

Over a whole day, the total "dose" of UVB received by a reptile may be roughly similar with either method; i.e. a low dose for a long period, or a high dose for several short periods. I know of no scientific evidence for this; maybe someone could set up two vivaria, watch the lizards' basking behaviour and do the experiment, one day. (It would be a great project...) But in humans they use the same concept for UVB irradiation, i.e. dose = intensity x exposure time.

The reason I find compact lamps with "safer" spectra difficult to use in vivaria is because they are not ideal for either "shade" or "patch of sunlight" methods.
They produce a small zone of light with a steep UVB gradient - so unless you are illuminating a very small reptile in a very small vivarium, they do not provide a big enough zone for the "shade" method.
But the output is nowhere near high enough to create a "patch of sunlight" even if placed right next to the basking lamp. You are very unlikely to be able to produce a decent-sized basking zone with UV Index 3.0 or 4.0, for example, under a compact lamp with a safer spectrum.

Since no new test results have been published for some time, regarding the UVB output of compact lamps now on sale, here's a quick update on the current situation as far as I know it, with regard to the different brands of compact lamps. Please bear with me, as it's rather complicated.

In March this year, I tested two ExoTerra ReptiGlo 10.0 26W coils and these two are completely different to the version I tested in 2008.
The 2009 lamps even have a different shaped base (more like a cylinder than the cup-shape they had before) so they are probably made by a different company. The UVB output is much lower overall - making it one of the weaker 10.0 compact lamps available - but it still has a higher proportion of its output in the shorter wavelengths, so the spectrum is not what I consider optimal, although there is almost nothing below 290nm in this latest version.
Because of the very low output, these lamps are in my opinion extremely unlikely to cause eye problems if used at sensible distances (eg. 10 - 12 inches).
Here are some sample readings, all measured from the side of a bare lamp held vertically in a fixture with no reflector or dome, and no screen, at 12 inches distance:
Brand new lamp (30mins): 14 µW/cm² and UV Index 0.9
Lamp after 105 hrs (approx 10 days use): 13 µW/cm² and UV Index 0.7
Lamp after 750 hrs (approx 2.5 months use): 11 µW/cm² and UV Index 0.6
I have two of these on longterm testing right now and they will reach 1,000 hours (3 months) soon, so I hope to complete a proper report then.

ZooMed told me that stocks of their new version of the ZooMed Reptisun 5.0 and 10.0 Compact Lamps, with safer spectra with no non-terrestrial wavelengths of UVB, were replacing all the older style lamps in the USA from February 2009, and in Europe from April 2009. ZooMed said that from April 1st, all new stock shipped to anywhere in the world would have the new phosphors.
(I tested the prototypes in December 2008 and they looked good to me.)
But unfortunately, although I was supposed to receive samples of the actual production run (i.e. current stock) back in April, enquiries in June, July and even the beginning of this month have resulted in our UK distributor saying he doesn't think they have received any of the new type yet. So I can't confirm that the new phosphors are "out there" just yet, I'm afraid. But I have not heard of a single case of photo-kerato-conjunctivitis associated with a ZooMed Reptisun Compact in the USA for some time, so I suspect the new lamps are indeed on sale there.

The situation with the American company Zilla (formerly R-Zilla, formerly ESU) is even more complicated.
They, too, have reformulated their lamps. As folks in the USA may remember, they issued a voluntary recall on all Desert 50 Series lamps but never recalled any Tropical 25 lamps.
In late September 2008 I received a consignment of 20 lamps from most of the Desert 50 Series range, recently re-launched. Some had new phosphors, and those which did were much improved although one of the 20 lamps had another problem - a UVC leak. However, I am still receiving one or two (rare) reports of eye problems associated with the purchase of what might be old stock of the Desert 50 series... and several new reports of eye problems with the Tropical 25 series lamps - this is a new problem. I have been sent several lamps and these are apparently "old stock" Tropical 25s.. but some of these were purchased very recently - one only a couple of weeks ago, for example - from big chain stores (PetCo and PetLand) so I don't understand what's going on here.
Anyway... I sent a full report to Zilla about 2 weeks ago and I'm awaiting their response.

I have never been sent any samples, (old or new phosphors) of the Desert 50 Coil Lamps nor have I been sent any Tropical 25 lamps at all from Zilla (the only ones I have seen were those which had been associated with photo-kerato-conjunctivitis, sent by the owners). So I cannot comment on the Coil Lamps specifically; although all the new Desert 50 Series I tested appeared to have a very similar phosphor, so I'm assuming the Coil is the same.

I tested an ESU Super UV Coil 20W lamp in 2006 and it was emitting only 1µW/cm² when brand new.

Other UVB compact lamps from other parts of the world, which I have tested over the last couple of years are:
Namiba Terra Replux UV-Plus D3 UV Compact Lamp 8% UVB 23 watt. The spectrum and output was very similar to the Arcadia D3 Reptile Compact Lamp and Lucky Reptile Compact UV Sun Lamps mentioned above.

Ferplast Compact Lamp UV-B 10% 26 watt
ReptaPets Australia ReptaSun Plus 26W Spectrum 10.0
Repti Zoo Repti Sol Compact 10.0 26W
Big Apple Herpetological UVB Mystic Compact 18W (now withdrawn from sale)
These four all had significant amounts of non-terrestrial, short wavelength UVB and the Repti Zoo lamp also had a significant UVC leak.

There seem to be two basic problems with most UVB lamps (both tubes and compact lamps) manufactured cheaply in China.
Firstly, they appear to use a type of quartz glass that allows UVC and very short-wavelength UVB through it (unlike European glass, which I believe is very low-iron borosilicate) and also, when extruded into tubes, creates linear defects, like microscopic spurs inside the tube, which don't get covered evenly by the phosphor. There are therefore thin streaks of glass with no phosphor - you can just see them when you look at these tubes - and UVC can leak out through these streaks.

Secondly some of the phosphor blends they use, produce un-naturally short-wavelength UVB. This too escapes through the quartz glass.
The result is a lamp which can cause eye problems. It's not just cheaply-made Chinese compact lamps which can cause this. I have tested several brands of linear tubes with identical problems.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,

Frances
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Re: Compact lamps unsafe? UVGuideUK brief update

Postby Pravius » Fri Aug 21, 2009 10:27 am

More information then I could ever ask for! This is great information and maybe we might be able to get a mod to sticky this.

Thanks for taking the time to clear things up!

:)
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Re: Compact lamps unsafe? UVGuideUK brief update

Postby GoFast » Fri Aug 21, 2009 12:37 pm

i vote for this to be stickied....
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Re: Compact lamps unsafe? UVGuideUK brief update

Postby Drache613 » Fri Aug 21, 2009 7:29 pm

Hello Frances,

Thanks for your report! :D

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Re: Compact lamps unsafe? UVGuideUK brief update

Postby Embee » Fri Aug 21, 2009 8:01 pm

Fantastic report.

Many thanks, Frances!

I will be sure to book mark this page and provide the link to anyone considering using a compact lamp. It really helps to clarify the complex issues surrounding these bulbs.

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Re: Compact lamps unsafe? UVGuideUK brief update

Postby zebraflavencs » Sat Aug 22, 2009 5:02 pm

Yes, this was indeed most helpful. Thanks again, Frances !
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Re: Compact lamps unsafe? UVGuideUK brief update

Postby vickson420 » Sat Aug 22, 2009 7:51 pm

Thank you Frances for the update.
From what I read in what you reported it seems to me that at least with beardies the compacts are still not the way to go(with the exception of a few like the Arcadia which has always been a pretty decent bulb).It seems to me like here in the US we still are out of luck which is disheartening at best.Basically even if the are not harmful so to speak they still will not create an acceptable(at least my version of acceptable)environment for a bearded dragon.
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Re: Compact lamps unsafe? UVGuideUK brief update

Postby Drache613 » Sat Aug 22, 2009 9:35 pm

Hello Frances,

I have to agree with Vicky. Though with seeing the tests & I have followed your testing for quite awhile now, the compacts, for the most part do not give off very strong UVB. I do not like how they shine light either, to be honest & they are too glaring. That is one main reason why I don't normally recommend them for bearded dragons or other lizards with high UVB requirements. They just do not put out adequate enough UVB emissions to prevent metabolic bone disease, in my humble opinion.
I mean, we have seen metabolic bone cases with the Reptiglo 10 tube bulb & the UVB is hazardous with that bulb, but is weak in the correct UVB wavelength. So, the compact & coils are even weaker than the Reptiglo 10 tube bulb which I feel if used for long periods of time reptiles will fall prey to metabolic bone disease.
I agree that the Arcadia D3 12% compact light is good, but here in the US, we don't really get that one so I don't recommend it unless someone wants to order it from overseas which some do. I still do not like the way that the compacts look though, brightness & spectrum wise in comparison to mercury vapor bulbs or the flourescent tube bulbs that are decent.
I am looking forward to your update on the UK UV guide website, soon. :D

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Re: Compact lamps unsafe? UVGuideUK brief update

Postby tyryce » Tue Aug 25, 2009 5:31 am

Thank you for the update, very interesting.

I'm a newer member on the forum and I read something in your update that I have found with my bearded dragon. Last Friday his Meg-Ray MVB went so I set up a Reptisun 10 until his new bulb comes in. With the MVB bulb I found that my BD would bask for a small part of the day then spend a lot of time under his little canopy where it is shaded. This would upset me because I thought something may be wrong why he wasn't basking more. Then I noticed that since I had to put him under a Reptisun 10 he spends 3/4 of his day out of the shade and basking. He doesn't go into the shade until late afternoon or evening. After reading your update this makes sense to me and puts my mind at ease about his behaviours.

Danielle
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Re: Compact lamps unsafe? UVGuideUK brief update

Postby fresnowitte » Tue Aug 25, 2009 11:13 am

Thank-you very much Frances for taking the time to give us that excellent update. :wink:
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Re: Compact lamps unsafe? UVGuideUK brief update

Postby lilacdragon » Tue Aug 25, 2009 1:27 pm

Hi, Danielle.

Then I noticed that since I had to put him under a Reptisun 10 he spends 3/4 of his day out of the shade and basking. He doesn't go into the shade until late afternoon or evening.


Yes, this change in behaviour could be because he senses the reduction in UVB, Danielle... but it could also be because his basking area is now a lot cooler without the MVB boosting the heat. So he can't warm up so fast.
Do you have a good digital thermometer with a probe, or a non-contact thermometer?
You might want to take the temperature of his basking zone - right under his heat lamp - and see if it is still around 100 - 110F. Just as a precaution... :)

All the best

Frances
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Re: Compact lamps unsafe? UVGuideUK brief update

Postby ingridseynhaeve » Mon Sep 07, 2009 8:43 pm

Hi lilacdragon ,

Thanks for your such a good thread. I have read your thread.:study: It's a great help to everyone who want this information.
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Re: Compact lamps unsafe? UVGuideUK brief update

Postby protiemama » Tue Sep 08, 2009 5:52 pm

WOW Frances! Talk about information overload! :D Thank you so much for all your research. It explains so much about Ramoth's behaviour. You always challenge my brain cells. Love it! :blob8:

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Re: Compact lamps unsafe? UVGuideUK brief update

Postby Lk4sturns » Fri Sep 11, 2009 11:01 am

Great post.Been regular area mostly and was looking for shows and saw this.I need to take time and study more.I started thread on floorcent in Nat. area and someone post this link if it helps.I worked Tanning industry and whatthey call redding lamps are made same,but not all are equal(comparing 10.0 with another company 10.0 on output and life) so wonder if there was research on this,here:http://www.uvguide.co.uk/fluorescenttuberesults.htm.Get back here soon to study and follow up.
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Re: Compact lamps unsafe? UVGuideUK brief update

Postby Lk4sturns » Fri Sep 11, 2009 11:17 am

I started to study your post and WOW.This is great thing your doing.Two thing's one:I never follow up problem with mecury vapor lamps that were bad and Two:Spoke to Zilla directly coulpe times before UVC problem and they seem like they had no choice but to call forward with info. and recall,they also make claims about there desert 50 putting out more UVB than 10.0 from other two Rep.-Sun & exterra and ask what there UVB rating is cause not on box and told apoxx. 8.0.This could be true but how do you know without testing.Anyway wanted to add this.
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