Will Compact Fluorescent Lights Be Better for the Environment?

Written by on March 17, 2011 in Environmental Hazards with 3 Comments
Will Compact Fluorescent Lights Be Better for the Environment?

Compact Fluorescent Lights Contain Toxic Mercury and Complicated Cleanup

Compact fluorescent light bulbs have been praised due to their energy efficiency and last longer than their incandescent counterparts but now environmental scientists and waste management officials caution that the toxic poisons inside the bulbs may be dangerous to the environment and to human wellness.

Incandescent bulbs heat filaments inside the bulb which essentially “burn bright” creating light but according to General Electric 90% of the energy is wasted on this heat.  CFLs are more like a neon sign as electricity causes the gases within the bulb to excite and produce ultraviolet radiation which in turn reacts with mercury and phosphorous based compounds to create illumination.

Some argue that a resident that is used to paying $100 a month might leave lights on longer since they are comfortable paying that amount on a monthly basis.  The price of gasoline is one example of supply and demand, when prices are high, people cut down on usage.  When bulbs and cost of energy goes down, usage may go up.

There is now new legislation in effect signed by George Bush in 2007 which will begin to phase out Thomas Edison’s invention completely by 2014 in the United States.  In 2012 the 100 watt bulbs will be phased out and finally the 40 watt in 2014.  The Department of Energy urges everyone to replace one incandescent bulb with a compact fluorescent bulb.

Should a CFL rupture or break the EPA has a website dedicated to the toxic cleanup.  The procedures include having people and pets evacuate the rooms, air it out for 10 minutes, shut down all central air conditioning or heating, sweep up all visible broken glass and powder, place in a sealed container.  After cleaning the mess up they recommend disposing of the debris in an outdoor trash container and avoid leaving any fragments indoors.  If possible the EPA recommends actually airing out the room for several more hours while keeping the central air off.  That is just the website version they also have a 3 page PDF version with even more steps.

They say to use sticky tape on the area of the breakage to pick up any powder or glass and to put it in a glass jar with a metal lid or seal-able plastic bag.  Vacuuming is not recommended because it could spread mercury powder or perhaps mercury vapor.  Some communities require the debris to be taken to a recycling center and they are not allowed in the disposal containers.  Some people have gone as far as removing carpet where a CFL bulb has broken and released mercury but this is viewed as extreme.

Editor’s Note:  Which bulb did we ban?  It seems it would make more sense to install or require automatic motion sensors which turn lights on and off automatically which could save energy as well as eliminate the need for toxic CFLs.  It seems like the politics involved support cap-and-trade not the environment.

Sources:  msn.com, foxnews.com, wnd.com, GE

Photo: Dottie Mae Flickr Photostream Creative Commons 2.0

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3 Reader Comments

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  1. maili2@verizon.net' Mai-Li says:

    Interesting article. Motion sensors are a great idea inside the home.

  2. greg@consciouslifenews.com' Greg Scott says:

    Post it notes help too 😉

  3. smccardell@lightingsupply.com' Steve says:

    Now that the legislation has hit the 40 and 60-watt bulbs, it’s worth adding to your older article that LED bulbs are clearly a good option today with replacement bulbs now approaching (and sometimes beating) $10 each. They save a lot of money over their lifetimes. But those who still love incandescent and want to pay the extra bucks for electricity can still stick with halogen or even rough service bulbs. There are options besides CFLs! 😉

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