Posts Tagged ‘mercury’

CFLs – The next heavy metal band?

August 12, 2008

The debate as to whether global warming is man made or something that occurs naturally is one that will probably rage for a generation.  Since this site is NOT dedicated to discussing such far reaching topics, we will avoid all discussion regarding this matter.  However, given the fact that there is an immense amount of discussion on the use of energy saving devices, and if you are like we are, thrifty (okay, cheap) anything that will lower monthly costs and expenses is welcome.

Compact fluorescent light bulb

Compact fluorescent light bulb

This brings us to the topic of compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs.  Granted this may not be as interesting as what is going on at DCS or the latest news regarding other issues for foster parents, however it is something that should be discussed and understood.

CFLs have been touted as a great energy saving device, and may save consumers up to $30 over the life of the bulb.  The Energy Star website states the following about CFLs, “ENERGY STAR qualified bulbs use about 75 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times longer. Save about $30 or more in electricity costs over each bulb’s lifetime. Produce about 75 percent less heat, so they’re safer to operate and can cut energy costs associated with home cooling.”  For us that was enough to go out and buy some bulbs.  However, we started to read that there was something the consumer was not aware of.  Mercury.

CFLs contain this heavy metal, and this poses a health risk to humans and animals in the event that a bulb breaks.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website has a detailed explanation of what to do if a bulb breaks.

Before Clean-up: Air Out the Room

  • Have people and pets leave the room, and don’t let anyone walk through the breakage area on their way out.
  • Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.
  • Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one.

Clean-Up Steps for Hard Surfaces

  • Carefully scoop up glass pieces and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.
  • Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.
  • Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place towels in the glass jar or plastic bag.
  • Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.

Clean-up Steps for Carpeting or Rug

  • Carefully pick up glass fragments and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.
  • Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.
  • If vacuuming is needed after all visible materials are removed, vacuum the area where the bulb was broken.
  • Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister), and put the bag or vacuum debris in a sealed plastic bag.

Clean-up Steps for Clothing, Bedding and Other Soft Materials

  • If clothing or bedding materials come in direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powder from inside the bulb that may stick to the fabric, the clothing or bedding should be thrown away. Do not wash such clothing or bedding because mercury fragments in the clothing may contaminate the machine and/or pollute sewage.
  • You can, however, wash clothing or other materials that have been exposed to the mercury vapor from a broken CFL, such as the clothing you are wearing when you cleaned up the broken CFL, as long as that clothing has not come into direct contact with the materials from the broken bulb.
  • If shoes come into direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powder from the bulb, wipe them off with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place the towels or wipes in a glass jar or plastic bag for disposal.

Disposal of Clean-up Materials

  • Immediately place all clean-up materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area for the next normal trash pickup.
  • Wash your hands after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing clean-up materials.
  • Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your specific area. Some states do not allow such trash disposal. Instead, they require that broken and unbroken mercury-containing bulbs be taken to a local recycling center.
  • The State of Maine did its own study of CFLs, their report, all 200+ pages can be read here, Maine Compact Fluorescent Lamp Study. The Maine study states:

    Mercury concentration in the study room air often exceeds the Maine Ambient Air Guideline (MAAG) of 300 nanograms per cubic meter (ng/m3) for some period of time, with short excursions over 25,000 ng/m3, sometimes over 50,000 ng/m3, and possibly over 100,000 ng/m3 from the breakage of a single compact fluorescent lamp. A short period of venting can, in most cases, significantly reduce the mercury air concentrations after breakage. Concentrations can sometimes rebound when rooms are no longer vented, particularly with certain types of lamps and during/after vacuuming. Mercury readings at the one foot height tend to be greater than at the five foot height in non vacuumed situations.

    Another group, the Mercury Policy Project stated this in their summary:

    Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) are important energysavers and are being widely substituted for less-efficient incandescent light bulbs. But CFLs also contain small amounts of elemental mercury. Much of this mercury is released when a CFL is broken. Several studies of mercury releases from broken fluorescent bulbs suggest that, under certain conditions, CFL breakage can pose a health risk, especially to an infant or young child who spends time near the site of the breakage. While this risk raises valid public-health concerns, there is no reason for consumers either to avoid using CFLs or to panic if one is broken. However, parents should consider avoiding using CFLs in situations
    where breakage is likely, especially in infants’ or toddlers’ rooms. To prevent breakage and to increase recycling of CFLs at the end of their useful life, consumers need more and better information about risks posed by broken lamps, clear and consistent instruction on safe clean-up and disposal of a broken CFL, and guidance to help find energy-efficient light bulbs with minimal mercury content.

    While we would never tell someone how to run their household, we would ask that people use common sense.  Is the savings of $30 over the life time of a bulb worth the potential health risk that CFLs may pose to small children?  That is something that the individual must decide.  However, the federal government has decided to make the decision for us.  The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 effectively bans standard incandescent light bulbs by 2014.  Given the current information of CFLs and the potential for health risks, especially to small children, we would think that the federal government would allow market forces and consumer ideology to determine what kind of bulbs we use to light our homes.