Are CFL Light Bulbs Really a Good Green Alternative for Your Home?
Jun 21, 2010
Known for energy efficiency, compact fluorescent light bulbs are widely regarded as better alternatives for incandescent bulbs despite the fact that they contain mercury. They just need to be properly disposed of.
Home Depot and Ikea both have programs to accept and recycle CFLs.
The amount of mercury in a single CFL is not enough to be considered a health hazard, experts say. It’s the cumulative effect that is a concern.
“The amount of mercury that is in bulbs collectively, all the bulbs people purchase, is pretty significant as an environmental issue,” said Alexis Cain, an Environmental Protection Agency scientist in Chicago. “Is the amount of mercury that’s in any one bulb enough to pose a health risk to a person if it breaks? Usually not.”
Cain stressed proper care of the bulbs as a key factor in eliminating health hazards during disposal or in the event of breakage.
In the case of a broken CFL, the U.S. EPA recommends airing out the room for 15 minutes or more, scooping up glass pieces and powder using a stiff paper or cardboard and placing them in a glass jar with a metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag. Then wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Put the towels in the jar or bag also. Bulbs broken on hard surfaces should not be cleaned up with a vacuum or broom.
“It can be handled by a homeowner as long as they follow the right steps,” said Roger Hernandez, an electrician at Home Depot in Evanston. “As long as you provide ventilation, the amount of mercury is small enough that it’s not going to be a health risk.
Mercury is a naturally occurring element found in the air, water and soil. The EPA says high-level exposure can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and immune system in all ages.
But CFL bulbs contain just 5 milligrams or less. By contrast, mercury fever thermometers have about 750 mg.
The small amount of mercury in bulbs is only harmful depending on a person’s medical condition or if it is inhaled, Hernandez, said
“It is very minute portions of mercury in CFL bulbs,” he said. “[Manufacturers] have done a lot to improve them. You can get more mercury from a fish.”
Commonwealth Edison said all homeowners should use CFL bulbs, but need to be aware of the proper way to dispose of them.
“We encourage the use of CCF bulbs for their energy-efficient properties,” said Jeff Burdick, spokesman for Com Ed. “They can reduce the amount of electricity people use and thus pay for. They can be 90 percent more efficient that a regular incandescent bulb; plus they can last a lot longer.”