What you should know about Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs)
Compact fluorescent light bulbs
Fluorescent lighting converts ultraviolet light to visible light. In order to produce ultraviolet light, electrons flow through the fluorescent lamp and collide with mercury atoms. The collision with mercury causes photons of UV light to be released; the UV light is then converted to visible light as it passes through the phosphor coating in the glass tube.
How much mercury do CFLs contain?
Up to 5 milligrams – a tiny amount when compared to the 3 grams in a mercury thermometer, says Adrian Westwood, from the UK Environment Agency. Fluorescent strip lights contain similarly tiny amounts, reduced from the 100 milligrams present in first-generation CFL bulbs.
‘No amount of mercury is good for you, but the very small amount contained in a single modern CFL is unlikely to cause any harm, even if the lamp should be broken,’ says the UK Department for environment, food and rural affairs (Defra). REALLY??! Click to find more about photo.
Their advice for cleaning up a broken bulb:
Vacate the room and ventilate it for at least 15 minutes. Do not use a vacuum cleaner, but clean up using rubber gloves and aim to avoid creating and inhaling airborne dust. Sweep up all particles and glass fragments and place in a plastic bag. Wipe the area with a damp cloth, then add that to the bag and seal it. Mercury is hazardous waste and the bag should not be disposed of in the bin. All local councils have an obligation to make arrangements for the disposal of hazardous household waste. Find more-developed instructions
How can mercury affect my health?
The nervous system is very sensitive to mercury. In poisoning incidents that occurred in other countries, some people developed permanent damage to the brain and kidneys. Permanent damage to the brain has also been shown to occur from exposure to sufficiently high levels of metallic mercury. Whether exposure to inorganic mercury results in brain or nerve damage is not as certain, since it does not easily pass from the blood into the brain.
Metallic mercury vapors or organic mercury may affect many different areas of the brain and their associated functions, resulting in a variety of symptoms. These include personality changes (irritability, shyness, nervousness), tremors, changes in vision (constriction (or narrowing) of the visual field), deafness, muscle incoordination, loss of sensation, and difficulties with memory.
“Green” Light Bulb Scam
by Jeanette Strole Parks
When I recently read about a University of Washington-based startup trying to develop a cheaper and greener LED bulb, I was encouraged by the effort but also reminded of what a scam has been perpetrated so far in the name of “green” lighting.
Top-down environmental policy shifts in the U.S. have created an artificial market for energy-efficient light bulbs known as LEDs and compact fluorescent light bulbs or CFLs. But do they really have a net positive benefit, considering the steeply sharper pricing, iffy product performance, and environmental and consumer risks? Click for more about CFLs and LED bulbs
Why didn’t we know about this before?
The presence of mercury in fluorescent lights, though well known, seems not to have been well communicated to the public in the UK. But as Steve Poole, laboratory manager for the UK trade body The Lighting Association, points out, ‘fluorescent technology has been around for years without this being worthy of comment before.’ Now that CFLs are seeing widespread use in households, the mercury issue has been rediscovered, leading to calls for advice on light bulb disposal to be printed on CFL packaging. The disposal advice itself has not changed.
According to the Environment Agency’s Adrian Westwood, a more important issue that people should be focusing on is how to recycle CFLs.
So how should I recycle a CFL?
CFLs are classified as Waste Electrical or Electronic Equipment (WEEE); meaning that their manufacturers and importers are required to pay for CFL treatment and recycling (for more on the WEEE Directive, see Chemistry World, June 2007, p44). Defra says that any retailer selling a CFL bulb either has to take back a waste one, or advise on how to take it to a ‘Designated Collection Facilities’ set up for the purpose. There are over 1400 DCFs in the UK.
Can this fledgling recycling system cope with vastly increased numbers of CFLs, though? According to Defra, ‘appropriate handling and disposal is not difficult, and what is now a relatively new disposal system will become more fully developed.
I suspect that 99% of dead fluorescent light bulbs get thrown in the garbage and their toxins can do their toxic thing.
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