CFL bulbs have been touted as the solution to reducing energy use in the home. But where is the savings if the environment and the health of those in the home are put at additional risk?
Incandescent bulbs give off a soft, steady radiant light from a bulb made with safe, non-toxic materials. However, CFL bulbs have known health risks associated with exposure such as headaches and even increase the risk of cancers. Also, if they are not properly recycled, increase toxins such as mercury to the environment and toxic gasses to the air, water, soil and eventually our food supply.
Each CFL bulb contains 3 to 5 milligrams of mercury – linked to numerous health conditions such as cancers, learning disorders, social disorders and more, especially in developing children including exposure during pregnancy. Mercury is highly toxic to numerous biological functions. It is closely regulated by the EPA and fish are monitored for mercury levels before being sold by the FDA. Mercury contamination of seafood is a primary concern for reducing our consumption of seafood products such as tuna.
In addition, CFL bulbs emit naphthalene, styrene and phenol, which are carcinogens. Do not turn on CFL bulbs near your head or close to your body to reduce exposure. Since they do not emit these toxins when off, it is safest to keep the bulbs off to reduce emissions and risk of cancer.
If a CFL bulb breaks indoors, the procedure to remove the bulb is rather intense. A broken CFL bulb releases up to 800 times the ‘safe’ level of mercury into the room. DO NOT USE A VACUUM CLEANER, BROOM OR DUSTPAN! If you are pregnant, think you may be pregnant, or plan to be pregnant in the future, have some else clean up the bulb. Remove children and pets from the area for at least four hours. Ventilate the room at minimum 15 minutes up to 24 hours. Turn off central air conditioning or heating systems to prevent contamination of the rest of the building. Seal off all vents with tape and plastic. Wear rubber gloves and use masking tape to pick up all of the glass fragments. Also, wear a respirator approved for filtering mercury and disposable rubber gloves. Use tape to pick up all glass fragments and place in a glass container because mercury can leach out of plastic bags and containers. Store the broker CFL in the glass container until taken to an approved recycling center. Wash everything in the room with clear water. Does anyone else think this is extreme for a ‘green’ light bulb? A light bulb used in millions of fixtures in the United States and around the world? Remember how to clean up an incandescent bulb? Vacuum it up and throw it away. There is no risk, except maybe cutting yourself.
CFL bulbs emit UV rays – the same rays that experts claim are responsible for skin cancer and skin aging from the sun. The UV emissions can damage the color of paints and furnishings that do not have a UV resistant coating. You may want to protect your skin from the UV rays of CFL bulbs by wearing sun protection with a UV rating while exposed to the CFL lighting in your home. In addition, protect your eyes from the UV rays with glasses approved to block UV rays to reduce harm to your vision.
Choose the appropriate CFL bulb for the fixture in which it will be located. Use special CFL bulbs in fixtures equipped with a dimmer switch. CFL bulbs must be installed only in fixtures where the base of the bulb is down to prevent overheating and a shorter lifespan as well as the risk of fire from the overheated base. Check the packaging to ensure that the base of the bulb is flame-retardant or the bulb can pose a fire hazard. Do NOT use CFL bulbs in rooms where they can be easily broken, such as playrooms for children. When incandescent bulbs are finally fased out and illegal to manufacture, I wonder exactly what we are supposed to use to light playrooms and areas intended for children to play?
CFL bulbs must be recycled to recover the mercury and other gasses used in the bulb. Check your local area for the nearest recycling center. Mercury is already a problem in our food, soil, air and water – the additional load from improper disposal of the bulb will add to the toxic burden of our environment, increasing environmentally-related diseases from mercury exposure such as cancers, leukemia, birth defects, learning disorders, ADD/ADHD, autism and other mercury-exposure related medical conditions.
CFL bulbs are manufactured in China and India where legislation protecting workers from hazardous working conditions are less stringent. Hundreds of employees at CFL manufacturing plants have been poisoned by mercury exposure – some have even required hospitalizations. Incandescent bulbs are manufactured all over the world, including in the United States. Incandescent bulbs do not harm employees at manufacturing plants.
When you look at all the risks to health associated with exposure to CFL bulbs including risks to: eyes, skin, brain damage, etc, it may be best to avoid them in your home. The savings are offset by the expense associated with proper clean-up and disposal, the higher cost per bulb as well as the limitations associated with replacing fixtures or choosing a more expensive bulb for overhead fixtures. In addition, the threat to your home and valuables by the increased risk of a fire by using bulbs that may not be flame-retardant will pose yet another risk to the lives of your family. I say, we need to ban CFL bulbs, the minimal savings on the electric bill when wind, water and solar are slowly replacing fossil fuels just adds yet another risk to our health.