Tuesday, April 22, 2008

CFL Poison

Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), the supposedly eco-friendly alternative to traditional incandescent bulbs, have a staggering potential to harm our water supply. Fluorescent tubes and CFLs both use highly poisonous mercury. Despite this, the Canadian government has ruled incandescent bulbs will be illegal by 2012.

Environment Canada reports the mercury contained in one fluorescent light tube (about 23 milligrams) is enough to render 30,000 litres of water unsafe to drink....

At present, relatively few people are recycling their used fluorescent lights....more than 90 per cent of the lights end up in the trash when they're no longer in use...

The smaller compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) also contain enough mercury that people should treat them with care. According to Natural Resources Canada's Web site, anyone picking up a broken CFL should take precautions like wearing rubber gloves, opening the windows and placing the debris in a sealed plastic bag before disposal. If a vacuum cleaner is used to clean up the mess, the vacuum bag should also be placed in the sealed plastic bag.

The Web site does offer some words of encouragement to people charged with the task of picking up a broken CFL, however.

"All of this can be done by oneself -- no need to call in a hazardous waste team," it says.


Johnny 5 said...

As someone who sells light bulbs for a living, I am less enthusiastic than most about compact fluorescent bulbs. This is due to the fact that the ones currently available contain significant amounts of mercury. If one of these bulbs should break inside of a person’s home, it could cause a challenging disposal situation. It is my belief that the technology should progress to a point at which the mercury levels are low or nonexistent before people changeover their entire homes. Another consideration is that as these bulbs burn out, they will most likely be thrown away as though they are normal rubbish and landfills will have incredibly high levels of mercury in their soil as a result.

Krissy said...

Most CFLs today on the market contain less than 5mgs of mercury and there are CFL options out there that contain as little as 1.5mgs of mercury- which can hardly be called a “significant amounts of mercury” considering that many item in your home contain 100s of times more of mercury including your computer. Mercury levels in CFLs can never be “nonexistent” since mercury is a necessary component of a CFL and there is no other known element that is capable of replacing it. But CFLs actually prevent more mercury from entering the environment. According to the Union of Concerned Scientist, “a coal-fired power plant will emit about four times more mercury to keep an incandescent bulb glowing, compared with a CFL of the same light output”.

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