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    One broken ‘green’ CFL bulb contains at least .5 mg of mercury
    By Helen Barratt | September 27th 2010 03:32 PM | 14 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    One broken ‘green’ CFL bulb contains at least .5 mg of mercury, some claim that .5 mg is enough to pollute 180 tons of water but without a doubt mercury poisoning is dangerous to humans and the environment. Most of the CFL lightbulbs available in Australia at present contain at least 4 mg of mercury and this amount varies considerably up to as much as 12 mg in some bulbs.

    The Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs otherwise known as the CFL "green" light bulbs or energy-saving bulbs are rapidly becoming accepted, popular and even almost compulsory in many countries, as the old familiar, but less efficient incandescent bulbs are being phased out, and are often now impossible to buy.

    In China and Australia the CFLs now light millions of households, however, these bulbs can cause a high level of mercury pollution. See ‘That green trend might be your skin mutating’ By Lisa Carducci at http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/opinion/2010-03/11/content_9571162.htm

    And yet in most cases the governments enforcing their use have not come up with appropriate measures to cope with the mercury pollution. Most people who break bulbs or dispose of old bulbs are unaware of the serious health safety issues. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercury_poisoning

    ‘Chronic exposure to trace amounts of the compound can lead to mercury buildup in the body over time; it may take months or even years for the body to eliminate excess mercury. Overexposure to mercuric cyanide can lead to kidney damage and/or mercury poisoning, leading to 'shakes' (ex: shaky handwriting), irritability, sore gums, increased saliva, metallic taste, loss of appetite, memory loss, personality changes, and brain damage. Exposure to large doses at one time can lead to sudden death.’

    ‘Inorganic mercury compounds (such as Hg(CN)2’..’should be handled with care as they are known to damage developing embryos and decrease fertility in men and women.’

    According to Carducci, the government in China’s Guangdong province, has subsidized rates to promote the use of eight million of these green bulbs, without an effective system established to recycle and cope with such a massive amount of bulbs.

    Similar problems also exist in Australia. Many councils do not provide recycling services and broken bulbs are being thrown into landfills and are probably already polluting the waterways and fisheries.

    Photo courtesy http://www.dreamstime.com

    Liu Hong, an expert in energy research claims that if the used bulbs are not recycled, "more than 117 million tons of water will be polluted" in Guangzhou alone this year. According to Liu's statistics, "a single energy-saving bulb contains at least .5 mg of mercury, enough to pollute 180 tons of water. If the used bulbs are buried, the soil will be contaminated as well". 

    Soon British consumers like the Australians and Chinese, will be compelled to buy energy-efficient light bulbs from 2012, the British hope to “save up to five million tons of carbon dioxide a year from being pumped into the atmosphere,"

    However, another downside is that a huge number of Chinese workers will probably continue to be poisoned by mercury, as China supplies two-thirds of the compact fluorescent bulbs sold in Britain and Australia, "an industry that promotes itself as a friend of the Earth depends on highly toxic mercury."

    See http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article6211261.ece

    ‘Making the bulbs requires workers to handle mercury in either solid or liquid form because a small amount of the metal is put into each bulb to start the chemical reaction that creates light. Mercury is recognised as a health hazard by authorities worldwide because its accumulation in the body can damage the nervous system, lungs and kidneys, posing a particular threat to babies in the womb and young children.’

    ‘The risks are illustrated by guidance from the British and Australian governments, which says that if a compact fluorescent light bulb is broken in the home, the room should be cleared for 15 minutes because of the danger of inhaling mercury vapour'.
    See http://www.climatechange.gov.au/what-you-need-to-know/lighting/resources...

    Another alternative to the CFL and incandescent bulbs is the halogen bulb which has the advantage of being more efficient and having longer life than the incandescent bulb. They are relatively small in size and are dimmable. The disadvantages are that they are more expensive, and burn at a higher temperature which may possibly increase the risk of fire hazard in some areas of use, see http://www.megavolt.co.il/Tips_and_info/types_of_bulbs.html I have recently been out and bought halogen light bulbs to replace my incandescent bulbs as they eventually burn out.They turned out to be about the same price as the CFLs, yet they look a lot like the old incandescent bulbs and even give off quite a nice light.

    Comments

    Scarey stuff.I see these new bulbs as a political stunt and/or a misinformed attempt to save energy but at what price?

    Aitch
    An International Association for Energy-Efficient Lighting (IAEEL) study conducted in Denmark, explored some carbon footprint factors, but not all, showing it took 1.8 Kwh of electricity to assemble a CFL compared to 0.11 Kwh to assemble an incandescent bulb. That means it took 16 times more energy to produce a CFL. The study did not include the fact that a CFL is much heavier and is more dangerous to handle, and will thus cost more to package, to ship, and to sell.

    This research also did not calculate the energy required to safely dispose of a CFL and reclaim the mercury. The cost of removing mercury from the landfills was also not considered. More over, the potential cost in destroyed lives, illnesses, and lost human productivity due to exposure to mercury and electromagnetic radiation have not been considered.

    If such a study could be done, and considered all the negative contributing factors, it would show a CFL has a massive carbon footprint, one that would dwarf a regular incandescent light bulb and it would also show that CFLs will leave behind a wake of environmental destruction.

    http://www.greenmuze.com/blogs/guest-bloggers/1031-the-dark-side-of-cfls...

    It is also interesting that use of CFLs is polluting household mains with 'dirty waveforms' and people with EHS [electrohypersensitivity] are affected, causing headaches etc. Magda Havas, a Canadian environmental science professor even says diabetics are affected by dirty mains

    http://www.greenearthled.com/news1.html

    A recent study shows a switch to LED technology likely to lead

    http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/08/led-lights-vs-cfl-life-cycle-stu...

    Aitch
    Amateur Astronomer
    Markets in my location that sell the new bulbs are required to take back the old ones in exchange. So far I’ve had no problems with anyone refusing them. The small bulbs are new, but the familiar long cylinder shaped fluorescent bulbs have the same hazards in larger amounts. The same markets take back the long cylinders in exchange.
    Helen
    Thanks for pointing this out. I knew I didn't like these bulbs but now I have a good excuse!
    Cheers
    Brian

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Thanks for the comment Brian.
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    If one uses the acceptable limit of 2 micrograms of mercury per liter of water, from the EPA, and assumes an average of 5 milligrams of mercury per bulb, it would take over 650 bulbs to pollute 180 tons of water.

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Yes, I have to agree that the maths is a bit strange if you use the American EPA figures. I used Liu Hong’s statistics from this China Daily newspaper article referenced above which claims that Liu Hong, is an expert from the energy research institute under the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s top economic planning agency and in that Liu claimed that "A single energy-saving bulb usually contains an average of 0.5 milligram of mercury. And 1 milligram of mercury is enough to pollute about 360 tons of water."

    The American EPA has set an enforceable regulation for mercury in drinking water (but not seawater), called a maximum contaminant level (MCL), at 0.002 mg/L or 2 ppb and claims that MCLs are set as close to the health goals as possible, considering cost, benefits and the ability of public water systems to detect and remove contaminants using suitable treatment technologies. However some other states and countries have lower mercury MCLs which can also vary for different types of water.

    In this Science Daily article Duke University researchers claim that mercury is more dangerous in seawater than in freshwater. ‘The potentially harmful version of mercury -- known as methylmercury -- latches onto dissolved organic matter in freshwater, while it tends to latch onto chloride -- the salt -- in seawater, according to new a study by Heileen Hsu-Kim, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering.’

    The safety levels for mercury can also vary depending on the form the mercury is in. Mercury (chemical symbol Hg) is a heavy metal that occurs in several forms, all of which can produce toxic effects. Its zero oxidation state Hg0 exists as vapor or as liquid metal, its mercurous state Hg+ exists as inorganic salts, and its mercuric state Hg2+ may form either inorganic salts or organomercury compounds; the three groups vary in their effects. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercury_poisoning
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Only a blog would print such garbage. There is no huge danger in "mercury pollution" from using CFLs. The FACT is, after a CFL dies, it wil release about 5% of what it SAVED into the atmosphere (about .25 mg compared to 5.6 mg from power plants)...even if thrown away. So it is compeltely absurd (and potentially dangerous) for such an ignorant "writer"...to use the term loosely...to be spreading such FUD. And it is amazing that someone would still be writing such garbage in 2010. This is like troofers still talking about "Freefall speeds" of the WTC several years after THAT was debunked as well

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Broken CFL’s are also identified a source of dangerous global mercury contamination in the UNEP (United Nations Environment Program) Global Mercury Assessment Report’s key findings at http://www.chem.unep.ch/mercury/Report/Key-findings.htm which also answers questions like
    ‘HOW CAN MERCURY RELEASES BE REDUCED?' with the following :-
    ‘28. Reducing or eliminating anthropogenic mercury releases will require controlling releases from mercury-contaminated raw materials and feedstocks as well as reducing or eliminating the use of mercury in products and processes. The specific methods for controlling these mercury releases vary widely, depending upon local circumstances, but fall generally under four groups:’

    1.Reducing mercury mining and consumption of raw materials and products that generate releases;
    2.Substitution of products and processes containing or using mercury;
    3.Controlling mercury releases through end-of-pipe controls; and
    4.Mercury waste management. ‘
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    OH, and byu the way...the fact htat this site is called SCIENCE 2.0 is absaolutely disgusting. You don't know the first hting about sicence. You have embarrassed yourself, your family and your school system.

    UvaE
    Mr. Lakawak, before injecting venom into a respectable collective work, please double-check your typing.
    UvaE
    Hi Helen, I wish I had read your article before writing my mine on CFL's. It would have further strengthened my argument!
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Thanks again Enrico, the more articles on this topic the better I think, don't you? I still find it amazing that Governments can force these 'green' but toxic, mercury containing compact fluorescent light bulbs on an unsuspecting public without issuing health warnings on the packaging of how to clean them up when they break, by first ventilating the room for 15 minutes, then using rubber gloves, sticky duct tape, sealed glass containers and correct disposal methods, don't you?

    How many toddlers are sitting right now playing on a carpet that a mercury CFL bulb has broken on in the past? Parents don't even realize that carpets cannot be effectively cleaned after such a CFL breakage has occurred and that government websites usually recommend that carpets are either patched or thrown out if this small but still dangerous amount of mercury powder is spilled onto them.

    Every day CFL bulbs are being broken by the millions around the world and the public are not aware of the dangers, especially to our very young, sick and old people and also to school principals, hospital matrons, ballistics experts and any other profession who break a lot of CFLs and have to clear them up and who also have a much higher incidence of Motor Neurone Disease (MND) which exhibits almost identical symptoms to mercury poisoning.
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    The EPA reports that CFLs are the environmentally responsible choice. Replacing one incandescent light bulb with an energy saving CFL bulb reduced carbon monoxide emission to the atmosphere.