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Mercury Warning About Energy Efficient Fluorescent Bulbs

Posted by Jane Akre
Tuesday, February 26, 2008 12:47 PM EST
Category: On The Road, Major Medical, Protecting Your Family, In The Workplace
Tags: Mercury, Toxic Substances

Two reports on compact flourescent energy saving bulbs warn you how to clean them up if they break- they pose a risk of mercury exposure.


They are touted as energy-efficient alternative to combat global warning when compared to the standard light bulbs. 

But those spiral-twisted compact fluorescent tubes actually do nothing for the environment if they break. Two reports conclude that the bulbs contain mercury and pose a risk of mercury poisoning to infants, young children and pregnant women.

It is recommended if the bulb breaks, get children and pets out of the room immediately and ventilate the room. Do not use a vacuum but rather use stiff paper such as cardboard or index cards to pick up the pieces.  Then wipe the areas with a damp paper towl. 

The reports come from the state of Maine and the Mercury Policy Project.   

Keep on using the bulbs they say because of the energy savings. The bulbs use about 1 percent of the amount of mercury you might find in an old thermometer. Unfortunately there is no known substitute for mercury's ability to produce light.  And at 1 to 30 milligrams of mercury compare that to 48 tons of mercury released from power plants.

Just to make sure, researchers in Maine shattered 65 of the compact fluorescent bulbs. They then tested air quality.  That's when the levels of mercury vapor sometimes exceeded federal guidelines for exposure- by as much as 100 times.

Using even more precaution, if there are pregnant women in the house, the study recommends you consider removing the piece of carpet where the glass broke as a precaution then put the debris in a glass jar and screw on the top and remove it from the house.

Depending on what state you live in dictates disposal. Vermont, Minnesota and California ban disposal in trash. Maine and Massachusetts are participating in compact fluorescent recycling programs.

More than 290 million of the bulbs were sold last year. According to the federal government, if we all used them, the U.S. would save $600 million in energy costs every year and prevent greenhouse gas equal to 800,000 cars. #


Posted by Mark A. Ceaser
Friday, February 29, 2008 12:49 PM EST

Greetings Ms. Akre,

Thank you for publishing your article.

A large sector of our society is quite misinformed to the hazards of CFLs and how to properly dispose of them. The chemical properties of mercury are that when ingested, either by physical contact or inhaled, it causes a wide range of health hazards. It is a proven neurotoxin and, in long term exposure, can result in death. Mercury exposure has proven to be a development problem in children and directly related to autism.

I’ve seen numerous message boards related to CFLs and mercury spills, and “how in the old days we handled this stuff and never had any problems.” Again, I reiterate, long term exposure will result in damage. Many of these posters that complain when a school or hospital is shut down overreact because they do not know the facts. One of the biggest problems with mercury in its liquid form is it breaks into many beads and is often quite difficult to collect. Think of the T-1000 Terminator from “Terminator 2”. Quite often, in these cases, people are exposed to the mercury, it gets on their clothes or shoes, and they spread the material. This is the primary reason why schools and buildings are completely shut down and evacuated. In the case of a broken fluorescent bulb, the combination of broken glass and heavy metals within the bulb quickly become an aerosol. Once it gets into the ventilation system, the debris causes respiratory and skin problems.

Regarding the recycling of CFLs, there is a non for profit organization called the Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers ( LINK ) that promote public and private sector programs to collect spent mercury containing devices. This greatly reduces the amount of illegal dumping and limits the amount of material winding up in the landfill. Many states have individual laws to eliminate mercury bearing devices winding up in the landfill, however a national law has not yet been drafted. As part of my graduate studies, with my co-author, Anthony Zippi, drafted a white paper that has been published in several environmental and cleaning journals, Lighting the Future. We’ve show cased how CFLs can reduce your energy costs, the amount of fossil fuels to create energy, eliminate recyclable materials in landfills and creating a positive benefit by job creation.

Feel free to contact me on these issues, I welcome your feedback.


Mark A. Ceaser

Anonymous User
Posted by Steve
Friday, February 29, 2008 4:12 PM EST

This mercury in CFLs issue is way overblown. The amount of mercury in one bulb is so tiny and think of all the mercury that is taken out of the air by one bulb. To say that the environmental impact is taken away if one bulb breaks is rediculous.

Here is a nice web article on mercury in CLFs - LINK

These SpringLight bulbs have the least amount of mercury than any other CFL bulb made.

People want to know why is there mercury in them? Well, the mercury is what actually makes the bulbs light up. Check out the article.

Anonymous User
Posted by Jane Akre
Friday, February 29, 2008 9:54 PM EST

Thank you both for the additional information. I really appreciate it.

It makes me wonder when we saw all of those news stories about a year ago heralding these bulbs- why did no one mention the mercury in them and how to handle and dispose of them safely?

I don't think the media is generally very curious these days.

Anonymous User
Posted by Cheryl
Wednesday, March 12, 2008 10:32 AM EST

Although the amount of mercury in each bulb appears to be insignificant, imagine if thousands of these bulbs end up in landfills. And if one's community does not offer nearby disposal/recycling centers, how much gasoline will be wasted driving to these centers?

Very little, if any, information about the bulbs' negative environmental impact and disposal information is printed on the bulbs' packaging. The media is indeed "strangely silent" on the issue. I fear that the environmental lobby is strong-arming the nay-sayers into silence on this issue.

I believe this is a Pandora's Box and we will all suffer the consequences in the result.

Anonymous User
Posted by Jamie
Tuesday, March 18, 2008 6:31 AM EST

Now I am scared. I broke one last year with my 2&3 year old in the house now what will happen to them? This is wrong I thought we triied to protect people not make them ill. Now It's probly to late to treat my kids for any side effects.

Comments for this article are closed.

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