Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Downside of Compact Flourescent Light Bulbs

Here is an excerpt from the July 2007 issue of "Environment News"

California Moves to Ban Incandescent Light Bulbs

Although environmentalists are advocating the use of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) to replace incandescent ones, CFLs pose real environmental hazards, according to those same activists and public authorities.

As reported in an April 12 article in the Ellsworth (Maine) American, Brandy Bridges had the misfortune of breaking a CFL during installation in her daughter's bedroom. It dropped and shattered on the carpeted floor.

Aware that CFLs contain potentially hazardous substances, Bridges called her local Home Depot for advice. The store told her the CFL contained mercury and that she should call the Poison Control hotline, which in turn directed her to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The DEP sent a specialist to Bridges' house to test for mercury contamination. The specialist found mercury levels in the bedroom more than six times the state's "safe" level for mercury contamination, 300 billionths of a gram per cubic meter.

The DEP specialist recommended Bridges call an environmental cleanup firm, which reportedly gave her an estimate of $2,000 to clean the room. The room then was sealed off with plastic, and Bridges began gathering finances to pay for the cleaning. Reportedly, her insurance company wouldn't cover the costs because mercury is a pollutant.

Given that the replacement of incandescent bulbs with CFLs in the average U.S. household is touted as saving as much as $180 annually in energy costs--and assuming Bridges doesn't break any more CFLs--it will take her more than 11 years to recoup the cleanup costs in the form of energy savings after dropping one light bulb on a carpeted floor.

You can read the rest of the story here:


Steve said...

I don't think the risks of CFL’s are quite as bad as this article indicates.

Compare the data with a few other sources:

While it is true that CFL's contain small amounts of mercury, and you should always be careful when dealing with mercury exposure, the amount of exposure from a broken CFL shouldn't cause a panic. Nor should it be a reason to abandon CFL's in favor in incandescents.

Also, it's important to note that because of the levels of mercury, when these bulbs burn out they shouldn't simply be thrown in the trash. Rather, they should be taken to a recycling center where they can be properly disposed of. It may create an extra hassle, but if you're buying CFL's for environmental benefits, then the idea of recycling may be attractive anyway.

justinvanderark said...

Here are a couple things to keep in mind about these energy-saving, “green” devices. If the average household in Michigan were to save $180 annually in energy costs multiplied by the 3,785,661 households Michigan has, the combined energy-bill-savings (if all households used these bulbs) would be $681,418,980 per year. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) encourages the use of such bulbs: “Replace your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent or LED lights… Their longer life and low energy use quickly make up for their higher cost.” They note that “The federal government also offers a $500 tax credit for energy-efficient… upgrades.” Now, because these light bulbs last up to seven years, home-owners wouldn’t be spending $500 per year on light bulbs; but when they do purchase them, it pays!

I do not endorse the socialistic, anti-capitalist method that California is using to force the use of such products upon its residents. However, I do support tax breaks and incentives that encourage the use of energy efficient products, educate the consumer, and save the tax-payer money on both their tax and energy bill. GreenBuilt Michigan is an excellent resource for additional information about Green Building. Their website ( offers a very nice presentation of what a “Green” home looks like, including compact fluorescent light bulbs. Conservatives, rather than opposing efforts to save energy and protect our environment, need to support such efforts from a conservative approach: offering incentives in the form of tax breaks, educating the public, and leading by example.


Justin Vander Ark

onemadmamawolf said...

I am not as some people put it a treehugging liberal as some are, however I do believe in conserving where I can. Being a member of the low income fixed income retired set we have chosen to seek out energy efficient methods of saving our pennies. When recently purchasing a new home we bought a new stackable washer and dryer. The washer is a front loader which only uses about 2 gallons of water in each cycle. My clothes are glowing and this washer is rated to use approx $15 of electricity a year. We had to also purchase a new water heater and shopped until we could find the most energy efficient we could find for our circumstances. This one is computerized to adjust itself to our personal needs. Also when purchasing a water softener we found one which is also is computerized to recycle when needed not on a regular schedule causing a huge savings in salt used and energy to recycle. We have amazing soft water and are saving energy and money at the same time.

We have placed the new energy efficient lightbulbs in every light in the house. We also used them in our previous place and found we saved approximately $15.00 a month just from the use of these alone. They have now come out with one for over head ceiling light fan combos that looks like a regular incandescent bulb but has the fluorescent bulb inside. They throw amazing light which for the wattage they use is actually brighter than a regular bulb of the same wattage.

I am a bit surprised in Representative Hoogendyck's stance on this issue as I have always found him to show such common sense normally but do think he went a bit over the top on this issue.

Jack Hoogendyk said...

To those who feel I am over-reacting, I use CFL's in my own home. I just think it is humorous that the same crowd which is pushing CFL's is now dealing with the issue of mercury contamination. I personally think the benefits of CFL's outweigh the risks, just handle them carefully.

onemadmamawolf said...

Thank you Representative Hoogendyk for the clarification. You had me worried for a moment. I have looked up to you for some time for you views and stance on many issues. I really like the way when asked a question in a forum you give such straight forward answers without hesitation. You have been a breath of fresh air long needed in the legislature of our state.