Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) get a lot of talk for their efficiency. The benefit of cutting lighting costs, as well as energy generation, has everyone’s attention.
Another CFL topic Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative members are asking about is a link between CFLs and mercury. What are the health issues and what needs to be done for proper disposal?
While CFLs do contain mercury, ironically they present an opportunity to prevent mercury from entering our air, where it most affects our health. The highest source of mercury in our air comes from burning fossil fuels such as coal, the most common fuel used in the U.S. to produce electricity. A CFL uses 75 percent less energy than an incandescent light bulb and lasts at least 6 times longer. A power plant will emit 10 mg of mercury to produce the electricity to run an incandescent bulb compared to only 2.4 mg of mercury to run a CFL for the same time.
So what questions should be asked relative to the CFL and mercury issue?
Q. How much mercury are we talking about?
A. Reports so that a regular CFL contains about 4 mg of mercury, which is about 1 percent of the mercury contained in old home thermometers. This is barely enough to cover the tip of a ball point pen and will not cause any bodily harm as long as simple precautions are taken.
Q. What is the best way to dispose of a CFL once it burns out?
A. In honor of Earth Day 2009, MLEC launched a CFL recycle program. Collection “centers” are available in each MLEC lobby. Although the drop-off location does not accept tube lights, we can provide members with information on other recycling and disposal options. For example, you can search for disposal options online by using your zip code at www.earth911.com, calling 1-800-CLEAN-UPor visiting www.lamprecycle.org. Also, if a disposal site is not available in your area, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests placing the burned out or broken bulb in a plastic bag, which should be sealed before being placed in the trash.
Q. What do I do if a CFL breaks?
A. Open nearby windows to disperse any vapor that may escape, carefully sweep up the fragments (do not use your hands) and wipe the area with a disposable paper towel to remove all glass fragments. Do not vacuum. Place all fragments in a sealed plastic bag and dispose.