On CFL’s and Mercury Content
Posted on April 19, 2011 by derek
So, my mother (Hi Mom!) sent me one of those alarmist emails that says: “Energy Saving Bulbs or Energy Bulbs, if broken, cause serious danger!“(the email is full of red fonts and CAPS LOCKED wording as you will see below, click on the picture for a blown up version).
Now the stuff written in this email is not entirely true, or can be a potential source of misinformation (as such emails tend to be). I’m going to attempt to demystify things, so let’s get cracking!
Let me start saying that there are very small amount of mercury in older bulbs that are FLUORESCENT and this mercury, is sealed in the glass tubing. Mercury is essential for the fluorescent bulb to provide light, and it is still in use in lighting products, because it’s an efficient way to do it. Over the years, however, bulb manufacturers have been steadily decreasing the mercury contained in CFL bulbs.
“A CFL containing 5 mg of mercury breaks in your child’s bedroom that has a volume of about 25 m3 (which corresponds to a medium sized bedroom). The entire 5 mg of mercury vaporizes immediately (an unlikely occurrence), resulting in an airborne mercury concentration in this room of 0.2 mg/m3. This concentration will decrease with time, as air in the room leaves and is replaced by air from outside or from a different room. As a result, concentrations of mercury in the room will likely approach zero after about an hour or so.
Under these relatively conservative assumptions, this level and duration of mercury exposure is not likely to be dangerous, as it is lower than the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard of 0.05 mg/m3 of metallic mercury vaporaveraged over eight hours. [To equate these values, we could estimate the average indoor airborne mercury concentration for 8 hours, beginning post-spill at an estimated starting value of 0.2 mg/m3 and decreasing from there. If one assumes the the air exchanges completely in one hour (a fairly standard assumption), then the 8-hour average concentration would be 0.025 mg/m3.]“.
Now of course, I’m not saying that one should not be cautious when a bulb (that contains mercury) breaks, do get everyone out of the room, air the room, and wait for a few minutes before attempting to clean up. Handle these bulbs with care, like you would with anything that’s toxic.
But, I’ll also need to point out, that this isn’t any different from eating processed foods, using batteries, thermostats and all other electronic, cleaning and beauty products that contain toxic chemicals (that’s most of them, by the way). In fact, you’re probably already enjoying some mercury with the seafood that you’re eating! (Please Read “Are Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs Dangerous” from Scientific America). At the end of the day, there are lot’s of other things that you interact with on a daily basis that are not good for you (please see The Story of Cosmetics).
And this brings me to my bigger problem with the email: It is not “Energy Saving Bulbs” that contain mercury, but any lamp that is Fluorescent.
“Energy Saving Bulbs” are, in this email, referring to CFL‘s or Compact Fluorescent Lamps which are a class of fluorescent lighting. Now Fluorescent lighting has been around for literally, decades. CFL’s are the newer class of (energy efficient) lighting that replaced the old fluorescent tube technology (they made it smaller, hence the word, compact).
Although, old fluorescent tubes, are still very common in a lot of buildings and some homes, the point I’m trying to make is that mercury (or any other toxic chemicals) in our products are not a recent phenomenon. Please point this out to anyone who tells you that “Energy Saving Bulbs cause serious danger“, because that’s not entirely true (as you will see below).
OK. So perhaps you’re the sort that doesn’t want to take a risk, or would like to be able to drop a light bulb without worrying about it, here are some alternatives:
- Incandescent, which are the ancient, energy inefficient lighting that are being phased out at IKEA (please also read Energy Star’s comparison between Incandescent lighting and CFL’s, and how CFL’s actually help reduce the macro amount of Mercury pollution in the air and oceans). This is the bad, and expensive alternative.
- Energy Efficient Light Emitting Diodes (LED) which were considered a very expensive lighting choice once upon a time, due to high retail prices. In 2011, we’re starting to see them become competitive with CFL’s, over their long lifecycle. And they can look pretty nice as shown below.
- VU1′s Electron Stimulated Luminescence™ Bulb, a new technology, uses accelerated electrons to stimulate phosphor to create light, making the surface of the bulb “glow”. Energy efficient, relatively cheap and mercury free, what a win! check them out.
I think I’ve sorted through these issues with enough detail, but if you have any questions, concerns, or would like some help with energy saving lighting (or anything else), please contact us!