Monday, January 17, 2011

Dark Side of Compact Flourescent Bulbs

The push to adopt compact fluorescent bulbs to replace the existing incandescent bulbs irks me. I'm not in a hurry to have my home become a Hazmat zone. It just bugs me how something like this would be pushed so hard with hardly any discussion of the environmental repercussions and potential health concerns. We choose not to use them.

I included the info directly from the EPA website below regarding what to do in the event you break a bulb, in case you have converted over and are unaware of the potential harm that you could bring to yourself, your pets or children and the environment. If used bulbs are disposed of in the trash, they also enter the landfills, soil and contaminate the ground water as well.

The good thing is there appears to be more info being published detailing the potential problems. The downside is that it doesn't seem to be slowing the forced push to switch over. Another thing not well known is that almost all CFLs come from China, where almost all of the power plants burn coal. When you factor in a cradle to grave type carbon footprint of how the bulbs are manufactured, the hazardous content as well as the bulbs not living up to their estimated length of life over the existing bulbs, it's all looking like a big sham. Hopefully the Govt. will come to their senses prior to an all out ban on existing bulbs taking hold.

Until then, if you want to save the environment, do what your parents told you. Shut the light off when not needed. As long as you won't be turning the light on again very soon, that's your best bet.

Here is some info from this Blog post, good info:

The EPA claims that using compact fluorescent light bulbs leads to less mercury in our environment because they require less electricity and coal-fired power plants which are the main contributors to mercury emissions. However, that is preposterous. As professor Hui points out, we may be saving energy, have less greenhouse gases and mercury emitted during the process than we did in the creation of incandescent bulbs, but when manufacturing bulbs the mercury contamination is specific to the power plant itself. With CFL light bulbs, we have now brought the mercury into all our homes, city streets, soil and landfills.

Hui, also tells us that although we are under the impression that CFLs last longer than incandescent bulbs they are not as energy efficient as we have been led to believe because of a high failure rate within the electrolytic capacitor. However, the most scary piece of information to emerge from this interview is when Hui shares with us that the CFL is a very profitable business and manufacturers are not likely to pursue more environmentally friendly options, until the public becomes more aware and pressures the government to step in.

Even General Electric themselves have been quoted as admitting that the mercury in the bulbs may become a serious problem as sales of CFLs increase. Since it will soon be a mandatory practice, it is obvious we have a huge problem on the horizon.

EPA Website Info:

What to Do if a Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) Bulb or Fluorescent
Tube Light Bulb Breaks in Your Home:


These tips also apply to other mercury-containing bulbs, including:

  • Other fluorescent bulbs, including linear, U-tube and circline fluorescent tubes, bug zappers, tanning bulbs, black lights, germicidal bulbs, high output bulbs, and cold-cathode fluorescent bulbs;
  • High intensity discharge bulbs, which include metal halide, ceramic metal halide, high pressure sodium, and mercury vapor;
  • Mercury short-arc bulbs; and
  • Neon bulbs.

Fluorescent light bulbs contain a small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing. When a fluorescent bulb breaks in your home, some of this mercury is released as mercury vapor. The broken bulb can continue to release mercury vapor until it is cleaned up and removed from the residence. To minimize exposure to mercury vapor, EPA recommends that residents follow the cleanup and disposal steps described below.

1. Before cleanup
  • Have people and pets leave the room.
  • Air out the room for 5-10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoor environment.
  • Shut off the central forced air heating/air-conditioning (H&AC) system, if you have one.
  • Collect materials needed to clean up broken bulb.

2. During cleanup
  • Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder.
  • Place cleanup materials in a sealable container.

3. After cleanup
  • Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly. Avoid leaving any bulb fragments or cleanup materials indoors.
  • For several hours, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the H&AC system shut off.

Did you convert any of your existing bulbs over to CFLs? Break any bulbs? Were you aware of the potential danger to health and the environment? What is your take?


Ginny said...

Thanks for the scare! Now what do I do? Damned if I do and Damned if I don't!

Chris said...

That is a very good point, I should have provided alternatives. There are two main alternatives currently, energy efficient halogen bulbs and LED bulbs. Halogens are affordable, have high light output, but produce high heat. There are LED bulbs out there that look similar to regular light bulbs, have no mercury, do not give off UV or IR radiation and do not heat up. The problem there currently is cost. It looks like currently a 2 watt standard socket LED bulb, the equivalent of a 10W incandescent existing bulb, is $7.98.

My take is that the potential negative effects of Mercury on ourselves/household and the environment outweigh any small energy efficiency savings that I would personally contribute from usage in our home. Therefore, until LEDs come down in price and up in efficiency, which they will inevitably, I'll stock up on some extra longer life higher efficiency regular incandescent bulbs the next time we head to Lowes to hold me over.

Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Themes