The Meliorist – It takes you…

{February 26, 2008}   CFLs – not the panacea?

So, yet again, I’ve been driven to question whether there is anything that is good for the environment.  CFLs or Compact Flourescent Lights have been touted as the answer to conserving energy and money in today’s well-lit homes and workplaces.  I had not done the total switchover, but had decided not to buy any more regular bulbs in order to utilize these savers.  So, imagine my surprise when I read this little blurb on Debt Proof Living:

CFLs do use less electricity, but I am not convinced the savings are sufficient to warrant the additional cost to buy them in the first place.
The jury is still out on whether CFLs are better for the environment. So far the companies and federal government haven’t come up with effective ways to get Americans to recycle them. It seems that disposing of them presents more problems than anything they’re supposed to fix. |
CFLs contain toxic mercury. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin, and it’s especially dangerous for children and fetuses. The problem with the bulbs is that they’ll break before they get to the landfill.
They’ll break in containers, or they’ll break in a dumpster or they’ll break in the trucks. Workers may be exposed to very high levels of mercury when that happens. And if they break at home, you run the risk of contaminating your home or yard. CFLs are troublesome.  (DPL, Feb. 2008)

I just heard a story this weekend about the horrific effects of mercury poisoning.  I was aware that mercury was dangerous, but I did not know just how bad the health effects of exposure could be.  I had not heard about these potential negatives of CFLs prior to reading this article.  I had heard a bevy of reasons as to why I should switch, but nothing I read ever provided these caveats.  So, I decided to do some fact checking.

I was relieved to read this blurb at

That said, the mercury in compact fluorescent bulbs currently does not pose a major problem — and you know I don’t take pollutants lightly. In municipalities such as Grist’s hometown of Seattle, which is emphasizing conservation as a cost-cutting measure and pushing CFLs to the point of sending them free to ratepayers, there is an attendant concern about the solid-waste-disposal effects down the road. But let me emphasize: The tiny punctuation of mercury should not stop you from buying CFLs, any more than it stops you from wearing a watch.
One final note: Burning fossil fuels to generate electricity creates mercury pollution. Thus using compact fluorescent bulbs actually reduces mercury pollution, because CFLs use far less electricity than incandescent bulbs.

Hmmmmm… equal to that of a watch battery eh?   That seems pretty darned miniscule.  But, it would not be the first time we had said that the effects would be small only to realize later that the we were wrong, wrong, wrong.  But, then I read this at National Geographic: “One CFL contains a hundred times less mercury than is found in a single dental amalgam filling or old-style glass thermometer, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).”  That is pretty miniscule!  And to add fuel to the fire – the reports on CFLs causing mercury pollution problems have been lobbied by Fox News.  Not the most dependable of news sources to be sure.

I’ll finish up with this quote from the National Geographic article:  “”By using less electricity, CFLs help reduce mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants, which are the largest source of human-caused mercury emissions in the United States,” said agency press officer Ernest Jones.”  I  feel like my previous decision to make the switchover to CFLs is a good one.  And I feel like I’m glad that I explored the issue further after reading the Debt Proof Living article.  Although I think that publication has some valuable money-saving information each month – it just proves that rumors and twisted reporting can call any concept into question if we are not careful.

So, get those CFLs burning – just be as careful as you can with them to prevent breakage and if possible, take them to a recycling or toxic waste facility when they burn out instead of throwing them in the garbage.  And do the same with those watches that stop running!  And those old thermometers you have laying around!


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