Law of unintended consequences

As you may recall, Congress has made most good old incandescent bulbs illegal, at least as of 2012. Our Congress people might want to re-think this as England publicly begins to panic about the risks associated with CFL bulbs:

The Environment Agency has called for more information to be made available on the health and environmental risks posed by low-energy light bulbs.

It says because the bulbs contain small amounts of mercury, more information about safe recycling is needed.

It also wants health warnings printed on packaging and information on how to clear up smashed bulbs in the home.

But a toxicologist has played down the risks, saying several bulbs would have to be smashed at once to pose a danger.

Environmental scientist Dr David Spurgeon said: “Because these light bulbs contain small amounts of mercury they could cause a problem if they are disposed of in a normal waste-bin.

“It is possible that the mercury they contain could be released either into the air or from land-fill when they are released into the wider environment.

“That’s a concern, because mercury is a well known toxic substance.”

Official advice from the Department of the Environment states that if a low-energy bulb is smashed, the room needs to be vacated for at least 15 minutes.

A vacuum cleaner should not be used to clear up the debris, and care should be taken not to inhale the dust.

Instead, rubber gloves should be used, and the broken bulb put into a sealed plastic bag – which should be taken to the local council for disposal.

Unbroken used bulbs can be taken back to the retailer if the owner is a member of the Distributor Takeback Scheme.

Otherwise, many local waste disposal sites now have the facilities to safely collect and dispose of old bulbs.

However, this advice is not printed on the packaging that low-energy bulbs are sold in.

Toxicologist Dr David Ray, from the University of Nottingham, said about 6-8mg of mercury was present in a typical low-energy bulb, which he described as a “pretty small amount”.

“Mercury accumulates in the body – especially the brain,” he said. “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.”

Somehow, I don’t think parents of small children are going to find the one broken bulb versus five broken bulbs formulation comforting.

As for me, I continue to loath the energy efficient CFL bulbs that dot my house, since they buzz horrifically and the constant flicker magnified off the edges of my glasses drives me crazy.  Give me the warm, silent, steady glow of an incandescent any time.


28 Responses

  1. I’m also seeing reports here in Germany that the bulbs are bad for migraine sufferers and some people with light-sensitive allergies. Activists want these groups excepted from any compulsory use. That sounds like another government department to me, to say nothing of a steep price increase in normal incandescents as they become rare specialty products.

  2. Small children don’t have the amount of tolerance to toxicity that larger adults have. Larger brains, more blood to dilute toxins in, and so forth. Everything with toxicity is about concentration. The smaller you are, the less dose you will need.

  3. Edison’s lightbulb 1879 . “And now you know the rest of the story “.

  4. And speaking about unintended consequences for the mobile passionates Edison’s lightbulb 1878 combinded with Ford”s 1908 model T ! The unintended possibilites were endless except for the 60’s volkwagon and naughties(blush) Smart car types. There are limits ! Carry on.

  5. I am reminded of the book, Anthem, by Ayn Rand. In her dark vision of the future, amnesia has set in on the inhabitants, who have become so thoroughly socialized, the proper nouns I and me are no longer in the vocabulary. One of the more intelligent citizens of this technology-free world is confined to cleaning the sewers for being too smart. In one sewer, he finds the means to recreate electric lights, and when he goes before the elders of the village to show them his discovery, they ban him and his light bulb from the commune.

  6. You turn on a fan, open the window and use a dust pan and broom to sweep up the debris. Easy as that. Take the bulbs and such back to Wal-Mart. They can handle it. They have boxes in the back just for the return of bulbs, broken and otherwise. I know. I work at Wal-Mart.

    Or you can be a moonbat and call the authorities. They’ll seal off the room and order you to spend thousands to clean up the toxic mess. What nonsense. Mercury is a toxic substance, yes. But it’s also a natural substance. It’s a part of the natural world. Can we stop hyperventilating over everything?

    This is just more scare tactics. Use incandescant if you like. They’re fine. Tell the gubmint to butt out and stop ordering us to use this or that. What hte heck do they know, anyway? Can you say “Alar?”

  7. Heheh, zhombre. Eeew, and all that entails.

  8. An interesting fact about Mercury,

    “Mad as a hatter”…The origin of the phrase, it’s believed, is that hatters really did go mad.
    The chemicals used in hat-making included mercurious nitrate, used in curing felt.
    Prolonged exposure to the mercury vapors caused mercury poisoning.
    Victims developed severe and uncontrollable muscular tremors and twitching limbs, called “hatter’s shakes”; other symptoms included distorted vision and confused speech. Advanced cases developed hallucinations and other psychotic symptoms.

    ( from the straight )

    …this might explain why greenies are acting so strange…
    ( sarcasm )

  9. A underground market for regular light bulbs will develop because too many people prefer them by far,

    it will be illegal but there is a chance it will happen.

    hell you can buy any drug you want on the street! why not light bulbs?

  10. When light bulbs are outlawed, only outlaws will have light bulbs.

  11. I’ll give up my light bulbs when they pry them from my cold dead hands.

  12. Is that a light bulb in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?

  13. Only you can prevent light bulb fires.

  14. We all light up to see ya, Z

  15. A light bulb is a terrible thing to waste.

  16. Out, damned light bulb! out, I say! Thou incandescent destroyer of the environment!

    Lady Macbeth, Act V, scene i

  17. Y ‘s is funnier than Z’s ! Everybody knows Smokey the Bear but Shakespeare ? Don’t cry Z second place is pretty good .

  18. Talking about recent America themes(changes) with regards to their domestic politics and light bulbs did you hear Mitt Rommney tell the interveiwer how many people it takes in a Mormon household to change a lightbulb. ? Four the man and the three wives who nag. . er I mean advise him on how to change it until of course they have to interfere and do it themselves !
    Flag me as a religious discriminating male -female bashing sexist equal opportunist !

  19. “This, then, was the end. Let there be no light, and there was no light!”

    George Stewart, ‘Earth Abides’

  20. That’s a great blast from the past, Tap. I read Earth Abides probably 25 years ago, when I stumbled across it on my father’s bookshelf. Great book. I’d compare it to Neville Shute’s On The Beach, which is also a great book.

  21. Have you read Alas, Babylon? It’s by Pat Frank, I think and it was another good one of that genre.

  22. I haven’t heard of that one, Tap. Read too many of those and, no matter how the earth abides, you get depressed!

  23. Prediction: there will be a special dispensation allowing incandescent bulbs to be purchased on grounds of “special artistic need.” Well-known activists, entertainers, politicians, and professors will manage to obtain “certificates of special artistic need” for their homes.

    Regarding mercury: coal-fired power generation releases mercury into the atmosphere, and I believe the mercury emissions saved by using a CFL are many times the amount of mercury in the device.

    GE has been working on a new-technology incandescent light with is 2X more efficient than standard bulbs..still inferior to the 4X efficiency improvement with CFLs, but better light quality. I wonder if this technology will be a casualty of the new regulation.

  24. True, Bookworm. I too can only take so many of those. Though I have to say Alas Babylon leaves you feeling pretty okay as compared to some of the others.

    ‘On the Beach’ left me cold. The characters were just so accepting of their fate that it was harder for me to relate to that one.

  25. Oh, but I also wanted to tell you that I loved “A town like Alice”. I gave it to my sister to read and I just may have to buy another copy to keep!

  26. All this should be in your Books thread, though…

  27. Wow this really takes me back, a good fast read.

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