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.
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