The question of mercury in Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) has kicked up a debate on TreeHugger before, but now we hear from the BBC that the UK’s Environment Agency wants to put warnings on CFL packaging about safe disposal, and what to do if a bulb is broken. If anyone is freaking out right now, and yearning for the good ol' days of safe, warm incandescents, please don’t get too concerned. Even though safe disposal is important, leading toxicologist Dr David Ray agreed with the assessment in our post that there is little risk to the individual homeowner from single bulb breakages:
That’s not to say that care shouldn’t still be taken to minimize risk. If a bulb is broken, it’s wise to open windows and ventilate well, and clean the debris up with dustpan and brush (not a vacuum cleaner), placing the contents in a sealed bag before taking it to your local hazardous household waste site. The BBC also recommends leaving the room for 15 minutes or so before attempting this operation. Equally, when a bulb reaches the end of its useful life, it should be recycled carefully. Earth911 is a good place to find recycling resources, or your local authority.
"Mercury accumulates in the body - especially the brain. The biggest danger is repeated exposure - a one off exposure is not as potentially dangerous compared to working in a light bulb factory. If you smash one bulb then that is not too much of a hazard. However, if you broke five bulbs in a small unventilated room then you might be in short term danger."
Even Greenpeace, who are big supporters of CFLs, agree in the BBC article that more needs to be done to arrange safe recycling, but they point out that the benefits of CFLs outweigh the negatives in the long run:
"Rather than being worried about the mercury these light bulbs contain, the general public should be reassured that using them will actually reduce the amount of mercury overall in our atmosphere."
It’s good to see thought and education going into safe handling of CFLs, but we hope people do not get carried away. While we wait for LEDs to become competitive, it would be a shame if we saw CFLs losing ground due to safety concerns when we know that incandescents are wreaking havoc with our world right now. Anyone wanting to know more about sustainable lighting options should check out our guide on How to Green Your Lighting. ::BBC::via site visit::