Environmental Reporter from UK Sunday Times on CFLs: RUN!

John-Paul Flintoff is the Environment writer for the Sunday Times, a UK Murdoch paper. On Sunday he wrote an article Poisoning ourselves to save the planet about the dangers of mercury from compact fluorescents. He starts off with a description of mercury poisoning from a nameless "informant" who worked for years in heavy industry.

"Their teeth fell out first, then they got the shakes and malaria-type symptoms."

There is no question that mercury poisoning is a serious problem, but this describes Minimata disease, or Mad Hatter syndrome, that comes from years of exposure at very high levels. It is not quite the same thing as what you get if you break a compact fluorescent.

Flintoff says the man is astounded that the bulbs are for sale without a health warning. He concludes with a statement from his "informant":

All I can say is that if you or your family have mercury bulbs at home," says my informant, "get rid of them. If you want to promote low energy bulbs, then go for LED bulbs."

Which is all very well, but I have no idea how to find the right LED bulbs, nor whether they would fit the fixtures in my home - nor indeed whether they too will turn out, in their turn, to be ill-conceived or poisonous.


Now if this was Michele Bachmann speaking, I would understand. But an environment writer? Who is probably sitting under a bank of 4' long fluorescent tubes at the Times offices? What does he think are in them?

Does he even bother to look up the info on how much mercury is in a compact fluorescent, 2 to 4 milligrams, smaller than a nib on a ballpoint pen?

Or how much mercury his dear little children will be getting from burning more coal to make the power needed to light up his incandescents?

Or how much mercury it takes to get the Minimata-like symptoms he is describing?

We have been talking about the mercury in compact fluorescents for years; Mike first wrote about it in 2005. It is an issue of concern, but the benefits of CFLs overwhelm the danger from such a small amount of mercury that evaporates in a couple of hours. To bring Minimata scale symptoms into the discussion is completely ridiculous fearmongering.

And then to finish with "I have no idea how to find the right LED bulbs, nor whether they would fit the fixtures in my home - nor indeed whether they too will turn out, in their turn, to be ill-conceived or poisonous." -what is that about? They are diodes, semiconductors no more or less dangerous than the CPU in the computer he is writing this stuff on. Now he is injecting doubt where there was never a whit of it before.

No doubt this story of Mr. Flintoff's will be all over the internet: "British Environmental Journalists says get rid of your CFLs." But it is dangerous stuff, taking the word of an "informant" and linking two very different threats.

I am not a doctor and cannot unequivocally say how much mercury is harmful. I did spend my childhood batting around little balls of mercury and dipping coins into it; my dentist used to give it to me to play with. Let's not exaggerate the threat from the vapour of two milligrams of the stuff.

More in The Times.


Are Compact Fluorescent Bulbs Dangerous?

Ask TreeHugger: Is Mercury from a Broken CFL Dangerous?
Should I Worry About Deadly Mercury In My CFLs?
Should I Worry About Deadly Mercury In My CFLs?

Tags: Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs | United Kingdom

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