According to the Energy Security and Independence Act of 2007, traditional incandescent light bulbs will be phased off the market starting in 2012 to be replaced by more efficient compact florescent light bulbs, or CFLs. This means that in just four short years, Americans will no longer be afforded the option of purchasing those rounded 100-watt 3-ways with that delicate little wire inside the bulb that always seems to split.
However, lurking inside those twisty, curvy new CFLs is a danger beyond comprehension that will result in the deaths of millions worldwide. But is this really true? Recent news reports would have you believe the answer is yes, and that the mercury inside the bulb is so dangerous and so toxic that once you screw it into your lamp, you’re history.
Nevermind the fact that we’ve had the ostensibly death-inducing stuff hanging directly over our heads in florescent tube office lighting for decades. And who hasn’t run across a shattered florescent lighting tube at least once in our lifetimes?
EPA’s Guidelines for Mercury Spill Cleanup
According to the EPA’s official guidelines for safe CFL cleanup and disposal in the case of breakage, fluorescent light bulbs contain a very small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing.
While on the face of it mercury is indeed a toxic substance, the EPA’s assessment of cleanup consists simply of ventilating the room, clearing the room of occupants for fifteen minutes or so, picking up glass fragments, sealing glass fragments in a plastic bag or jar, and washing/vacuuming the affected flooring. That’s far from the scary news stories of homeowners who have called in for $2000 toxic waste cleanups. In theory, these steps should be taken for any mercury-bearing object including thermometers and florescent tube lighting; yet we only hear about such problems with the new CFLs.
Bear in mind that in order to release the ostensibly dangerous levels of mercury inside the CFL, the twisty glass tube must first be broken; shattered upon dropping the bulb. For carpet owners, this is hardly a problem since the outer glass of a CFL is typically much harder than traditional incandescent bulb glass. However, if you drop the CFL on tile or wood flooring it will indeed shatter and release a tiny bit of mercury vapor into the air; not something you want to happen, but it won’t harm you either, particularly if you take the steps outlined by the EPA to clean up the mercury spill.
CFL vs. LED: Is the Demise of CFL Near?
Interestingly enough, the death knell for the CFL bulb may be coming. Although LED isn’t widely available at this time for whole-home lighting, research and development will soon improve the size, color, and brightness of these bulbs. LED bulbs are even more energy-efficient than CFLs, and are 90 percent more energy-efficient than traditional incandescents. And most importantly, no scary mercury .
CFLs are real energy-savers that help stem the tide of global warming. Let’s not allow rumor and heresay to get in the way of what could make our environment (and our world) a better place.