Saturday, February 21, 2009

Don't buy that light bulb!

I call them, curly fry bulbs." Yes, I'm still just an overgrown kid, but that's what they look like to me.

According to some folks, a life time diet of actual curly fries would be more healthy for me and our environment than one of these bulbs.

The dangerous culprit in the cfl light bulbs is mercury, a toxic chemical necessary for these light bulbs to work. The concern about the mercury takes two forms: 1). The health risk to individuals if they break them in their homes and 2). The environment, as the cfl bulbs get dumped in landfills.

Let's address the home exposure first.

Are we and our children at risk if we try to save a few dollars by using these highly energy efficient lights? There is mercury in the bulbs, approximately 4-5 milligrams which is less than you will find in a standard flourescent light bulb or even in a thermometer. If the bulbs break, there is a minimal risk of mecury exposure. There have been reports that if you break one in your home, you will need a Haz-Mat team and be forced out your home for hours or days. These reports are not true. The EPA estimates that the airborne risk from one of these breaking in your home is actually lower than OSHA's acceptable levels for the work place.

If you break one of the curly fry lights, use caution and follow the EPA's recommenations: (1) you immediately open windows to reduce mercury concentrations inside your home; (2) you do not touch the spilled mercury; (3) you clean up the broken CFL glass carefully and immediately (but not with your hands or a vacuum cleaner), and (4) you wipe the affected area with a paper towel to remove all glass fragments and mercury.

When we hear EPA recommendations for the use of an item, we tend to wonder if we should just avoid it, but let's glance around your home and see if we can see anything else that uses mercury. Why yes, I do see some: that watch that has the little button battery-mercury, the iron you bought a few years back has it in the tilt switch, oh and so does your old faithful washing machine. Is that an old style thermostat, I see. Yep, mercury there. My point with these items is that we have used them and have been fine.

Researchers have not been as successful with finding ways to get those bulbs to work without mercury as they have been in the other items I listed earlier. They are working on it and are currently reducing the amount needed.

Here are a couple sites that give you the details on the curly fries and their danger:

Bottom line, use the bulbs! They'll save you money and reduce the mercury being released in the air from the coal-fired power plants, almost 4x less for the cfls than traditional bulbs, and your risk of death or damage from them pales in comparison to driving to work in the morning.

Next post: CFLs effect on the environment, a net plus or minus?

1 comment:

Weave said...

When I was a kid in science class we'd get a bowl of mercury, poor some of it out onto a dish and play with it in our hands. It beads up and rolls around in the palm of your hand.

Not sure why I'm not dead, but who knows what the long term effect is. Maybe I was never as smart as I could be, or I'll suffer from some degenerative mental disease as I grow older.

Reminds me of people who used to get up close and watch nuclear test blasts in the 50s. We as a species don't tend to believe a lot of negative stuff until it's actually witnessed.

I think of that whenever I hear people claim global warming is fake every time there's a colder than normal day in the weather forecast too.