Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Compact fluorescent light bulbs

This past weekend I took on the project of replacing all the burnt light bulbs throughout our house. Attempting to be an eco-friendly consumer I picked up a 10 pack of these light bulbs from Costco. However, my neighbor informed me that if any one of the light bulbs were to break... they release toxic mercury vapors. Oh great. Our conversation prompted further research... check it out. Not sure how conclusive any of it really is but it's still wise to be informed. From NaturalNews.com

"A compact fluorescent light is a type of energy-saving bulb that fits into a standard light bulb socket or plugs into a small lighting fixture, and right now, compact fluorescents seem to be gaining in popularity. But did you know they can also be toxic to your home and the environment?

Fluorescent lights are filled with a gas containing low-pressure mercury vapor and argon, or sometimes even krypton. The inner surface of the bulb is coated with a fluorescent coating made of varying blends of metallic and rare earth phosphor salts. Fluorescent light bulbs are more energy efficient than incandescent light bulbs of an equivalent brightness, and the efficiency of fluorescent lighting owes much to low-pressure mercury photon discharges. But fluorescents don't produce a steady light, and they burn out more quickly when cycled frequently; they also contain items such as fluorine, neon, and lead powder as well as mercury.

Measuring the environmental impact of mercury use in a particular product is more complicated than you might think. Mercury is an essential element in millions of fluorescent lamps throughout the world, and as those lamps are thrown into landfill, the mercury can escape and contribute to air and water pollution. (It can easily leach into groundwater supplies.)

According to www.lightbulbrecycling.com, each year an estimated 600 million fluorescent lamps are disposed of in U.S. landfills, amounting to 30,000 pounds of mercury waste. Astonishingly, that's almost half the amount of mercury emitted into the atmosphere by coal-fired power plants each year. It only takes 4mg of mercury to contaminate up to 7,000 gallons of freshwater, meaning that the 30,000 pounds of mercury thrown away in compact fluorescent light bulbs each year is enough to pollute nearly every lake, pond, river and stream in North America (not to mention the oceans).

Controlling the waste
Many state governing agencies have adopted their own regulations regarding the disposal of fluorescent lights. In California, Minnesota, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin, it is unlawful for anyone to dispose of fluorescent bulbs as universal waste. These laws are based on the well-documented toxicity of the heavy metal mercury.

Mercury (also called 'quicksilver') is a heavy, silvery transition metal most commonly found in thermometers, barometers, and other scientific apparatus. It is used in the electrical industry and in laboratory and medical instruments. Mercury is a known neurotoxin, and elevated blood mercury levels may lead to retardation and deformities in children. Chest pains, dyspnea, coughing, hemoptysis, and sometimes interstitial pneumonitis leading to death may follow acute inhalation exposure to mercury vapor. In America, 1 in 6 children born every year have been exposed to mercury levels so high that they are potentially at risk for learning disabilities, motor skill impairment and short-term memory loss.

If Americans adopt the use of even more compact fluorescent light bulbs, this ratio is like to substantially grow. Breaking one mercury light bulb in your home can contaminate your home to such a degree that hazardous materials experts are needed to remove the mercury. (At great cost, too. A typical mercury removal effort involving the breaking of a single fluorescent light can cost several thousand dollars.) The idea of allowing mercury to be placed in an easily breakable consumer product is fraught with public safety risks. In fact, it required a special exemption from the EPA to allow mercury-fluorescent lamps to be sold to consumers in the first place."