Thursday, May 22, 2008

Mercury in CFLs

Jennifer left a comment to yesterdays post that brought up a good point. Although CFLs are highly energy efficient, they must be disposed of and handled carefully as they contain mercury.

Here is what energy star has to say about the mercury in CFLs.

Do CFLs contain mercury?
CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing – an average of 5 milligrams – about the amount that would cover the tip of a ballpoint pen. By comparison, older thermometers contain about 500 milligrams of mercury. It would take 100 CFLs to equal that amount. Mercury currently is an essential component of CFLs and is what allows the bulb to be an efficient light source. No mercury is released when the bulbs are intact or in use. Many manufacturers have taken significant steps to reduce mercury used in their fluorescent lighting products. In fact, the average amount of mercury in a CFL is anticipated to drop by the end of 2007thanks to technology advances and a commitment from members of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association.

What precautions should I take when using CFLs in my home?
CFLs are made of glass and can break if dropped or roughly handled. Be careful when removing the bulb from its packaging, installing it, or replacing it. Always screw and unscrew the lamp by its base (not the glass), and never forcefully twist the CFL into a light socket. If a CFL breaks in your home, follow the clean-up recommendations below. Used CFLs should be disposed of properly (see below).

What should I do with a CFL when it burns out?
EPA recommends that consumers take advantage of available local recycling options for compact fluorescent light bulbs. EPA is working with CFL manufacturers and major U.S. retailers to expand recycling and disposal options. Consumers can contact their local municipal solid waste agency directly, or go to or to identify local recycling options.

If every home in America replaced just one incandescent light bulb with an ENERGY STAR qualified CFL, in one year it would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those of more than 800,000 cars.


jennifer said...

Thank you for this follow-up! They really are worth it, as long as they're handled properly.

Krissy said...

Most CFLs today on the market contain less than 5mgs of mercury and there are CFL options out there that contain as little as 1.5mgs of mercury- which can hardly be called a “significant amounts of mercury” considering that many item in your home contain 100s of times more of mercury including your computer. Mercury levels in CFLs can never be “nonexistent” since mercury is a necessary component of a CFL and there is no other known element that is capable of replacing it. But CFLs actually prevent more mercury from entering the environment. According to the Union of Concerned Scientist, “a coal-fired power plant will emit about four times more mercury to keep an incandescent bulb glowing, compared with a CFL of the same light output”.