Monday, August 6, 2007

The Truth About CFLs

The evangelists of environmentalism and the fiery global warming preachers are fervently exhorting us to replace our standard light bulbs with more energy-efficient and cooler-burning fluorescent bulbs.

However, a controversy over the safety of these "green" fluorescent bulbs has arisen to make the layfolk wary.

I have seen a lot of stories about Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFLs) across the net. A popular tale is of a woman in Maine who accidentally broke a light bulb in her daughter's bedroom and was told to call poison control, had the room declared a hazardous waste site and was quoted an estimate of $2000 to stage a proper clean-up.

Some blogs call the story is a hoax. National Geographic, on the other hand, says it is true, but the hefty clean-up bill was due to some bad advice. The truth is that there is a danger in CFLs, in the form of Mercury. Each CFL contains about 5 milligrams of Mercury. Mercury is a neurotoxin and exposure can have serious effects on health.

Some sources say that extreme caution must be taken should you break a CFL, something bound to happen to nearly everyone at least once (they are encased in glass, after all). Others say clean up is as simple as clearing away any other broken bulb.

I decided to see what the experts in our government have to say on the matter.

This is from on frequently asked questions about CFLs.

What should I do with a CFL when it burns out?
EPA recommends that consumers take advantage of available local recycling options for compact fluorescent light bulbs. EPA is working with CFL manufacturers and major U.S. retailers to expand recycling and disposal options. Consumers can contact their local municipal solid waste agency directly, or go to or to identify local recycling options.

If your state permits you to put used or broken CFLs in the garbage, seal the bulb in two plastic bags and put it into the outside trash, or other protected outside location, for the next normal trash collection. CFLs should not be disposed of in an incinerator.

This is important to note. You must double seal the bulb in two plastic bags. That's because despite their reassuring words about the "tiny" amount of mercury in the bulbs, it is nonetheless, poisonous.

How should I clean up a broken fluorescent bulb?
The following steps can be performed by the general public:
1. Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.
2. Carefully scoop up the fragments and powder with stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a sealed plastic bag.
.Use disposable rubber gloves, if available (i.e., do not use bare hands). Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes and place them in the plastic bag.
.Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.
3. Place all cleanup materials in a second sealed plastic bag.
.Place the first bag in a second sealed plastic bag and put it in the outdoor trash container or in another outdoor protected area for the next normal trash disposal.
Note: some states prohibit such trash disposal and require that broken and unbroken lamps be taken to a local recycling center.
.Wash your hands after disposing of the bag.
4.If a fluorescent bulb breaks on a rug or carpet:
.First, remove all materials you can without using a vacuum cleaner, following the steps above. Sticky tape (such as duct tape) can be used to pick up small pieces 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 two sealed plastic bags in the outdoor trash or protected outdoor location for normal disposal.

Okay, did you get that? First of all, open a window and leave the room. When you clean up the broken bulb, wear rubber gloves, and double bag the broken bits. Make sure you get all the tiny pieces by using sticky tape. If you vacuum, make sure you wipe down your vacuum cleaner and dispose of the bag by sealing it inside two plastic bags. Note how often the double bagging is mentioned. Now think of the last time you had to fumigate a room because you broke a light bulb, or wear rubber gloves to clean it up, or wash down your broom or vacuum to remove a poisonous element.

The last thing we are told on the Energystar fact sheet is that compared to the small amount of mercury in CFLs, there are ghastly huge amounts of mercury being released into the atmosphere by coal-burning power plants. (Note: Power plants are always bad per environmentalists and the words "coal-burning" are equivalent to "puppy-strangling".) Just too horrible to envision. So if you want to reduce the mercury emissions from power plants, use lightbulbs that demand less power and keep the mercury emissions in your own house.

1 comment:

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