Yin and Yang of CFL’s

Living green, trying to do a little something to help reduce energy can also have a negative side. To weigh the good over the bad is left to you after you read this. I’m baffled and feel either duped by general info that’s out there and then again this is what I get for letting my guard down and by not doing my own research. The topic today is those wacky looking CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lights) bulbs. The amount of information as a consumer that I am given is that these lights, albeit a bit more expensive up front, will reduce your energy bill by as much as 30% over the course of a year. Plus, they last longer up to 10,000 kwh over the traditional incandescent bulbs that last 1,000 kwh. All this seems good, lower energy usage, last longer …. this is GREAT! Move over Thomas Edison, you’ve just been replaced.

Well maybe not yet.

What all the info out there doesn’t tell you is that each of these CFL’s contain mercury. According to a Portland Press Herald article (Feb. 26, 2008):

“Mercury is a toxin that affects the nervous system and can harm brain development in young children and fetuses. A compact fluorescent bulb contains only about 5 milligrams of mercury, enough to fit on the tip of a ball-point pen. An old-fashioned mercury thermometer, by comparison, contains about 100 times that amount. But if a bulb breaks, the small amount of mercury can create high levels of vapor in the air, the study showed. The mercury-vapor standard in federal and state safety guidelines is 300 nanograms per cubic meter of air. Broken bulbs created levels that often exceeded that standard and sometimes exceeded 25,000 or even 50,000 nanograms per cubic meter for short periods of time, according to the study.”

Light-bulbs break, it’s inevitable, now that you have one of these broken bulbs, what are you supposed to do for your clean up, well with an incandescent bulb, I’d sweep it up and throw it in the trash, with my biggest concern being that hopefully either myself, my wife or my dog don’t step on a piece of glass shrapnel that I forgot to clean up. With CFL’s and according to the EPA there are detailed specifics on how to handle a broken CFL, first and foremost you should evacuate your home, then below you’ll find the list of the other clean up steps:

Before Clean-up: Air Out the Room
* Have people and pets leave the room, and don’t let anyone walk through the breakage area on their way out.
* Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.
* Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one.

Clean-Up Steps for Hard Surfaces
* Carefully scoop up glass pieces and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.
* Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.
* Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place towels in the glass jar or plastic bag.
* Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.

Clean-up Steps for Carpeting or Rug
* Carefully pick up glass fragments and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.
* Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.
* If vacuuming is needed after all visible materials are removed, vacuum the area where the bulb was broken.
* Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister), and put the bag or vacuum debris in a sealed plastic bag.

Clean-up Steps for Clothing, Bedding and Other Soft Materials
* If clothing or bedding materials come in direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powder from inside the bulb that may stick to the fabric, the clothing or bedding should be thrown away. Do not wash such clothing or bedding because mercury fragments in the clothing may contaminate the machine and/or pollute sewage.
* You can, however, wash clothing or other materials that have been exposed to the mercury vapor from a broken CFL, such as the clothing you are wearing when you cleaned up the broken CFL, as long as that clothing has not come into direct contact with the materials from the broken bulb.
* If shoes come into direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powder from the bulb, wipe them off with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place the towels or wipes in a glass jar or plastic bag for disposal.

Disposal of Clean-up Materials
* Immediately place all clean-up materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area for the next normal trash pickup.
* Wash your hands after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing clean-up materials.
* Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your specific area. Some states do not allow such trash disposal. Instead, they require that broken and unbroken mercury-containing bulbs be taken to a local recycling center.

Future Cleaning of Carpeting or Rug: Air Out the Room During and After Vacuuming
* The next several times you vacuum, shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system and open a window before vacuuming.
* Keep the central heating/air conditioning system shut off and the window open for at least 15 minutes after vacuuming is completed.”

The last thing, is that all of these CFL bulbs are only built in China, there are no manufacturers in the US or any other nation. After finding all this information, it makes me wonder about the pros vs. con’s on these lights, especially since we just converted every bulb in our house to a CFL and we recently just had one of them break. We didn’t know this information before our clean up and we just tossed it into the trash like one would with any other light bulb. This information isn’t readily available, granted any google search will yield more than enough info, but I wouldn’t have known to google it. Below you will find a list of my resources for this article.

Portland Press Herald

Scientific American

National Public Radio

Energy Star

Environmental Protection Agency

Made in China

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Posted on October 7, 2008, in Environment, Rant and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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