Switch to mercury light bulbs to stop climate change? Uh, have you read the label fine print?

Redwood Valley

May 15, 2009 Ukiah, Mendocino County, North California

Flourescent light bulb warning

There is a movement by many states and localities to ban incandescent light bulbs and convert to total use of compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFL) to save energy.

And yet there are few who have read the small print on the tiny inside package label of fluorescent bulbs or heard about the EPA’s problems with regard to mercury contamination.

What should you know about fluorescent light bulbs?

  1. Heat resistant glass is used in these bulbs. The quartz arc tube, when operating creates light by generating a considerable amount of Ultraviolet (UV) radiation. How much exposure to this UV radiation goes through the heat resistant glass and what are the human health problems associated with this exposure? How does the public know that the exposure is safe for children and adults?
  2. If the glass is broken serious skin burns and eye inflammation from short-wave ultraviolet radiation may occur. Many of these fluorescent bulbs are constructed without automatic shut offs if the light bulbs are broken, thus exposing people to this type of harmful UV radiation.
  3. In the workplace many employees subjected to this type of lighting develop eyestrain and headaches. In many cases the flickering of these types of lights causes workplace eyestrain and irritation from the lighting being too bright. These issues do not appear to have any solutions at this time other than the use of incandescent light bulbs.
  4. According to California Assembly Bill 1109 (2007) Section (e): “…Most fluorescent lighting products contain hazardous levels of mercury. Most incandescent lighting products contain hazardous levels of lead. California prohibits disposing of hazardous lighting products in the solid waste stream. The hazardous materials in these products can be managed through recycling, but current recycling opportunities and levels are virtually nonexistent for most consumers…”
  5. According to California Assembly Bill 1109 (2007) Section (f): “Fluorescent lighting products delivering the same level of light at the same level of efficiency can have widely varying levels of mercury…” It appears that the product labels do not designate the levels of mercury in their products. Consumers are unable to choose the bulbs with the lowest level of mercury. Vote NO on California Assembly Bill 722.
  6. Whether or not shifting from incandescent to fluorescent lighting will result in a net reduction of mercury emissions due to the displacement of coal fired electricity generation is questionable at this time. More highly polluting production plants using mercury will need to be put online making fluorescent bulbs to replace incandescent bulbs. In addition, the lack of recycling will put this mercury into landfills where it will leach into drinking water sources and contaminate landfills as is the case at the present time.
  7. Clean up instructions for broken bulbs containing mercury are not provided on the outside of fluorescent manufacturer’s packaging at this time. Therefore, consumers are not aware of the following EPA facts:
    • “Never use a vacuum cleaner to clean up mercury. The vacuum will put mercury into the air and increase exposure. The vacuum appliance will be contaminated and have to be disposed of in a hazard waste disposal site.”
    • “Never use a broom to clean up mercury…”
    • “Never wash mercury contaminated items in a washing machine. Mercury may contaminate the machine and/or pollute sewage.”
    • Everyone should be removed from the area where the spill occurred; this includes pets. The impacted areas should be sealed off from other areas and all ventilation systems should be turned off from the impacted area.
    • “Never walk around as your shoes might be contaminated with mercury. Contaminated clothing can spread mercury around.” In case of fire the entire area will be contaminated with mercury and should be sealed off from any type of use.
    • If a spill occurs on carpet, curtains, upholstery or other like surfaces, these contaminated items should be thrown away in accordance…” and with assistance of your local hazard waste disposal site.
  8. The outside label on most fluorescent light bulbs does not carry this hazard information leading the public to believe that these bulbs are safe and that they do not need special recycling as hazardous waste. As well, the outside label does not let you know that used bulbs should be placed in containers where they can’t be broken prior to disposal.

Putting the cart before the horse

According to an article written by Joseph Farah, in WorldNetDaily, on April 16, 2007: “…with limited recycling prospects and the problems experienced, some think the government, the green community, and industry are putting the cart before the horse…” when they ferociously market fluorescent light bulbs. According to this article one local citizen in Prospect, Maine has to raise $2,000 to have an environmental cleanup firm do the work and her homeowners insurance won’t cover the cost.

Now we have Vice-President Al Gore with books, movies and speeches promoting the use of fluorescent light bulbs – knowing full well that they are not safe. Some do catch fire if not used in the proper lighting fixtures, which do not include, for example, track, recessed or dimmer fixtures. (Many packages are not clearly marked on this subject.) And known solutions to the problems associated with fluorescent light bulbs are five to ten years away. Prior to any ban on incandescent light bulbs there must be collection and disposal sites available everywhere for these types of products.

Americans also want built-in protections from mercury contamination for air, soil and water supplies prior to any mass changeover to this type of light bulb. Why are these types of light bulbs being promoted when they may not be safe for consumers to use and dispose of when broken?

We need to find new lighting systems that work better than either incandescent or fluorescent bulbs. Technological inventions could reduce the amount of electricity used by incandescent bulbs and a whole new generation of lighting systems could be put online like LED lights which may or may not be proven safe with regards to public health. With recycling about ten years away industry could be working on mercury free fluorescent lighting systems to meet energy reduction requirements. We need safe inventions first before we ban incandescent light bulbs.

EPA warning

The EPA warns everyone that “…Mercury has long been known to have toxic effects on human and wildlife…Mercury is a toxic, persistent, bioaccumulative pollutant that affects the nervous system…As it moves through the environmental media, mercury undergoes a series of complex chemical and physical transformations…” Local, state, and federal agencies should be working to reduce the amount of mercury in the environment – not promoting more usage of this highly toxic chemical.

No one knows just how many fluorescent bulbs are in landfills at the current time. By expanding their usage, we are adding to a monumental mercury pollution problem. We definitely need recycling before we need to use more fluorescent light bulbs.

Where are thousands of these fluorescent bulbs (made by a polluting industry), going to be recycled in the future if we ban incandescent bulbs? Are there recycling centers that can handle mercury contamination from these types of bulbs and take care of clean up when these bulbs are broken in your home and in landfills where they may be dumped? The public has many questions and few answers.

Contact your elected representatives and find out where they stand on this important issue. Vote no on legislation that would ban incandescent light bulbs in California and other states.

We can have safe and energy efficient light bulbs in the future if we work toward those goals today.

For more info on this and other issues, see Rosalind’s website.


Great article. Thanks. There was an article a year or so ago in the NYTimes that quoted one of the principle inventors of the mercury bulbs who identified the problems Rosalind cites and in addition one more: one cannot have low lumens with these bulbs. There is no equivalent to 40, 25 and 15 watt incandescent bulbs in terms of lumen output. Does Rosalind know if that has been changed? Certainly for outside lighting these high lumen bulbs are a real nuisance for folks who like dark skies.

Yes I have extensively covered the mercury issue on http://www.ceolas.net/#li19x including the EPA and Maine breakage advice changes following the Maine tests.

There is a bigger question too of course: Why a ban, for any reason?

Americans choose to buy ordinary light bulbs around 9 times out of 10.
Banning what Americans want gives the supposed savings – no point in banning an impopular product!

If new LED lights -or improved CFLs- are good,
people will buy them – no need to ban ordinary light bulbs (little point).
If they are not good, people will not buy them – no need to ban ordinary light bulbs (no point).
The arrival of the transistor didn’t mean that more energy using radio tubes had to be banned… they were bought less anyway.

All lights have their advantages
The ordinary simple light bulb has for many people a pleasing appearance, it responds quickly with bright broad spectrum light, is easy to use with dimmers and other equipment, can come in small sizes, and has safely been used for over 100 years.

100 W+ equivalent brightness is a particular issue – difficult and expensive with both fluorescents and LEDS – yet such incandescent bulbs are first in line for banning 2012!

Since when does America need to save on electricity?
There is no energy shortage, there are plenty of local energy sources, Middle East oil is not used for electricity generation.
Consumers – not politicians – pay for the energy used.
Certainly it is good to let people know how they can save energy and money – but why force them to do it?

OK: Does a light bulb give out any gases?
Power stations might not either:
In Washington state practically all electricity is emission-free, while around half of it is in states like New York and California.
Why should emission-free Seattle, New York and Los Angeles households be denied the use of lighting they obviously want to use?
Low emission households will increase everywhere, since emissions will be reduced anyway through the planned use of coal/gas processing technology or energy substitution.

Also, the savings amounts can be questioned for many reasons:
For a referenced list of reasons against light bulb bans, see
http://www.ceolas.net/#li1x onwards

Send your light bulbs to Washington!

Improper disposal of compact fluorescent light bulbs is very dangerous to your family and to the environment. In some states, it is illegal to put these light bulbs in your trash.

It’s easy to dispose of compact fluorescent light bulbs properly. Just send them to your Senator or Congressman in Washington. Or send them to the EPA.

You can find your Senator’s mailing address here: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

You can find your Congressman’s mailing address here: http://www.house.gov/house/MemberWWW_by_State.shtml

Or send your used light bulbs to EPA headquarters in Washington:
Environmental Protection Agency
Ariel Rios Building
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20460

Isn’t your family’s health worth the small postage cost? Don’t you want to help save the planet from this environmental nightmare? You’ll sleep better at night knowing your deadly mercury-containing light bulbs are with the experts in our nation’s capital. Send your light bulbs to Washington!

For more information, check out our web site at http://www.SendYourLightBulbsToWashington.com

If they are so deadly, then WHY MAKE THEM!!! It is a hoax. Having a fragile piece of glass with mercury in our home, the possibility of getting this on you is great. Just say NO! DO NOT BUY THEM.