April 22, 2011

The road to hell ...

... and you know the rest.

This article caught my eye today because I just had a sort-of scary experience with a CFL light bulb this past weekend. From the article:

Energy saving light bulbs 'contain cancer causing chemicals.' Their report advises that the bulbs should not be left on for extended periods, particularly near someone’s head, as they emit poisonous materials when switched on.

Peter Braun, who carried out the tests at the Berlin's Alab Laboratory, said: “For such carcinogenic substances it is important they are kept as far away as possible from the human environment.”

The bulbs are already widely used in the UK following EU direction to phase out traditional incandescent lighting by the end of this year.

But the German scientists claimed that several carcinogenic chemicals and toxins were released when the environmentally-friendly compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) were switched on, including phenol, naphthalene and styrene.

Terrific. Now, this past weekend an old incandescent bulb had burned out, so I went to grab a CFL I had pruchased a few months ago to replace it. However, when I opened the box, I noticed that the top "spiral" (CFL bulbs are sprial in shape) had a crack in it. When I went to remove the bulb from the packaging, the top spiral came apart. Now, if you know anything about CFLs, you know that they contain a small of mercury. I immediately put the bulb back in the box, washed my hands, and checked the Internet for specific information about what to do about such a situation. Of immediate concern was the fact that a break in a CFL emits a mercury vapor; the info I found recommends that one opens windows in the room where the break happened, and to turn off the heating or air conditioning system in the house. I did both of these. Of course, the break could have happened long ago when the bulb was being packaged or stacked on the store shelf, but I didn't take any chances.

Still, based on this site, I need not worry overmuch. Incandescent bulbs actually emit more mercury than CFLs via their use, but it's CFLs that pose a handling and disposal hazard, if even a relatively small one. And given that hazard, wouldn't you expect there to be a [much] more convenient way to dispose of them? Nope. There's a whole TWO recycling centers for all of New Castle County, [by far] Delaware's most populous county! I was completely ready to drive up to the general recycling center about two miles from my home just to properly dispose of this one CFL light bulb, but it seems they do not handle CFLs!

Consider: Does it make sense not to have readily available recycling spots for an everyday necessary household product -- one that in its general use is fairly significantly more dangerous than its predecessor? Not only that, but how many average folk will actually dispose of CFLs properly anyway ... let alone be cognizant of the dangers of handling a damaged/broken bulb? My guess is "not many."

Will CFLs end up being a green fad that actually is not any better for the environment than what it replaced (or semi-replaced), much like ethanol? Batteries for electric cars? We'll see ...

Posted by Hube at April 22, 2011 10:01 AM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

CFLs are better solution, both economically and environmentally. They do save energy, but they also contain small amounts of mercury. Recycling mercury-containing products, including CFLs, is becoming an important issue. As this article states, it is important for consumers to realize that CFLs and fluorescent bulbs require special handling and disposal. Like all mercury-containing fluorescent lights, CFLs should be properly stored, transported and recycled to prevent these fragile bulbs from breaking and emitting hazardous mercury vapor. They cannot be thrown away in the trash, but should be taken to a recycling center or disposed of by using a proven recycling box. However, taking them to a recycling center may not always be the most efficient solution. Consumers can use a recycling box to ship bulbs instead. If consumers choose this option, it is important to select a packaging configuration that effectively contains mercury vapor. A recent study conducted by the University of Minnesota tested the effectiveness of various packages in containing mercury vapor emitted from broken fluorescent lamps. The study found that many packages do not sufficiently contain mercury vapor, such as single-layer cardboard boxes (representing the original manufacturer’s box or container) as well as single layer boxes with a sealed plastic bag. Just one configuration—consisting of a zip-closure plastic-foil laminate bag layered between two cardboard boxes—minimized exposure levels below acceptable occupational limits, as defined by state and federal regulations and guidelines.

If a bulb is broken or burns out, it should be properly cleaned up and recycled—it should not be disposed of in landfills. To reduce the risk for mercury vapor exposure, CFLs and fluorescent lamps should be safely handled, stored and transported to recycling facilities in a package that is proven to effectively contain hazardous mercury vapor. Find out more about how to minimize environmental risks and safely package CFLs here: vaporlok.blogspot.com/2010/05/layers-of-protection-packaging-used.html

Posted by: Brad Buscher at May 3, 2011 09:34 AM

Well, you're basically making my point, Brad. Who wants to be inconvenienced to drive to a remote location miles from home just to recycle a light bulb and/or make sure it's packaged "correctly"??

Posted by: Hube at May 3, 2011 03:59 PM