Understanding The Dangers
of Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs
Are you aware of the dangers of cfl light bulbs?
I wasn't, until yesterday.
A lamp fell out and the three cfl light bulbs were broken.
My son asked me to look for a safety way to clean all the mess
and I found this article.
You see them in every grocery store and home center –
those funny-looking curly compact fluorescent lights (CFLs)
that are rapidly replacing the old round bulbs.
The energy efficiency of CFLs may be significant, but unlike traditional light bulbs,
there is a hidden danger sealed inside each little bulb that requires special handling and disposal.
a potent, developmental neurotoxin that can damage the brain, liver,
kidneys and central nervous system.
Infants and young children are particularly vulnerable to mercury’s toxic effects.
Even at low levels, mercury is capable of causing a number of health problems
including impair motor functioning, cognitive ability and emotional problems.
Higher or prolonged exposure can result in much more serious health problems.
CFLs are marketed as “safe” and don’t pose any health risks as long as the glass remains intact.
The danger comes if the bulbs are cracked, broken or not disposed of properly.
Although it sounds like a miniscule amount – 4 to 5 milligrams –
there is enough mercury in just one fluorescent light bulb to contaminate
6,000 gallons of water.
So what does that mean if a CFL is cracked or breaks in our homes,
releasing mercury vapors in an enclosed area?
Consumers – especially those with young children –need to know what to do
when a CFL breaks and the proper way to dispose of used bulbs.
It’s no longer as easy as changing a light bulb.
Compact fluorescent light-bulbs contain very small amounts of mercury
and care must be taken in disposing of them or when they break.
The EPA suggests the following:
o People and pets should immediately leave the room.
o Open a window and/or door and Air out the room for 5 to 10 minutes.
o Turn off the central forced air heating/air-conditioning system.
o Thoroughly collect broken glass and visible powder using wet cloths. Never use vacuum cleaners or brooms.
o Put all debris and cleanup materials in a sealable container and put outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly. Do not leaving bulb fragments or cleanup materials indoors.
o If practical, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the heating/air conditioning system shut off for several hours.
All of this needs to be done to protect people from the tiny amount of mercury
in one fluorescent light bulb.
Which begs the question,
are these lights really safe and are the risks worth it?
Another equally important concern is what happens to the environment
– the air, soil and water – when tons of discarded bulbs,
along with the mercury, are dumped into local landfills?
The threat posed by billions of broken CFLs lying in landfills
has resulted in some communities requiring their citizens to discard
used and broken CFLs in designated recycling centers
or in a hazardous-waste collection facility.
Given the known deleterious effects caused by mercury, it would seem logical to assume there will be some unintended consequences resulting from the switch to compact fluorescent lights.
Only time will tell how significant those consequences will be.
If you are concerned about the possible health risks associated with CFLs,
LED or halogen lights are good alternatives.
Both cost a little more but are as efficient as CFLs and can be recycled easily.
Although CFLs are considered extremely energy efficient, each bulb contains about 5mg “elemental mercury,” says U.S. Army-Ft. Wood. General Electric, a manufacturer of CFL bulbs, notes the amount equivalent to the tip of a ballpoint pen. GE further claims the mercury is an “essential, irreplaceable element” that allows the bulb to perform as an efficient light source, posing no danger during regular use. Elemental mercury is a bioaccumulative neurotoxin that effects multiple neurological responses. High exposures may affect the kidneys, lead to respiratory failure and death. In addition, mercury accumulates in the environment, vaporizing into the air and leaching into water supplies.
For more information about mercury and compact fluorescent light bulbs go to http://www.epa.gov/cfl/
For information about how to clean go to http://www.epa.gov/cfl/cflcleanup.html
Also check out these frequently asked questions about CFLs below
For information about your communities recycling program go to http://epa.gov/cfl/cflrecycling.html
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