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Mercury Hazards from Energy Saving Bulbs

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  • Mercury Hazards from Energy Saving Bulbs

    Our family takes being "green" seriously, but one popular way, we have stopped. Most everyone is aware of the compact energy saving light bulbs which sometimes look like spaghetti tubes, right? Just like the long fluorescent tubes, they contain hazardous mercury (most of them).

    Have you seen bright warning labels on them. Our county now FORBIDS dumping them into the regular trash and we must take them to the hazardous waste disposal, similar to fluorescent tube lights.

    If you drop and break one you now have a hazardous waste problem. My neighbor spent $800 having a company find and clean the mercury from that 1 energy saving bulb.

    Can you imagine when not cleaned that we are stepping, our pets are stepping, in mercury? More important, while a person may choose to do that in their home, what if you are using them in a commercial environment exposing your clients, pets and employees to mercury. You better have the hazardous crew out for a business.

    Imagine what is our happening to our landills because millions of people are not taking them to recycle centers, at least yet. Why are these legal when there is now evidence that the vapors from the landfills are now getting into our food chain? Well, back to our homes and businesses, there you can do something today. Certainly there are plenty of households and even grooming businesses that have broken these bulbs and do they know they have toxic mercury exposure to their pets and people?

    We will look for mercury free ones, but you may find it difficult, or find other ways to cut energy. Exposure to mercury is serious! Take care. Here's an article...


    Mercury in energy-saving bulbs worries scientists

    NEW YORK – There's an old joke about the number of people it takes to change a light bulb. But because the newer energy-efficient kinds contain tiny amounts of mercury, the hard part is getting rid of them when they burn out.
    Mercury is poisonous, but it's also a necessary part of most compact fluorescent bulbs, the kind that environmentalists and some governments are pushing as a way to cut energy use.

    With an estimated 150 million CFLs sold in the United States in 2006 and with Wal-Mart alone hoping to sell 100 million this year, some scientists and environmentalists are worried that most are ending up in garbage dumps.

    Mercury is probably best-known for its effects on the nervous system. The Mad Hatter in the classic children's book ”Alice in Wonderland” was based on 19th-century hat makers who were continually exposed to the toxin.

    Mercury can also damage the kidneys and liver, and in sufficient quantities can cause death.

    U.S. regulators, manufacturers and environmentalists note that, because CFLs require less electricity than traditional incandescent bulbs, they reduce overall mercury in the atmosphere by cutting emissions from coal-fired power plants.

    But some of the mercury emitted from landfills is in the form of vaprous methyl-mercury, which can get into the food chain more readily than inorganic elemental mercury released directly from a broken bulb or even coal-fired power plants, according to government scientist Steve Lindberg.

    “Disposal of any mercury-contaminated material in landfills is absolutely alarming to me,” said Lindberg, emeritus fellow of the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

    The mercury content in the average CFL – now about 5 milligrams – would fit on the tip of a ballpoint pen, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and manufacturers have committed to cap the amount in most CFLs to 5 milligrams or 6 milligrams per bulb.

    The majority of Philips Lighting's bulbs contain less than 3 milligrams, and some have as little as 1.23 milligrams, said spokesman Steve Goldmacher.

    To prevent mercury from getting into landfills, the EPA, CFL makers and various organizations advocate recycling.

    Besides commercial recyclers and some municipal waste collection services, some retailers accept used CFLs.

    IKEA, the Swedish home furnishings chain, has free drop-off programs at all of its 234 stores, 29 of which are in the United States. Spokeswoman Mona Astra Liss said response was slow at first, but has since picked up.

    Now advocacy groups are calling on Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and other big chains to get involved.

    Andy Ruben, vice president for corporate sustainability at Wal-Mart, said the company was working with the EPA's Office of Solid Waste and others to find mercury and recycling solutions.


    One problem with recycling is that it isn't cheap.

    Larry Chalfan, executive director of the Zero Waste Alliance environmental group, said the value of the metal, glass and mercury reclaimed from recycling fails to offset the cost of the process. “Someone has to pay,” he said.

    Costs can range from 20 cents to 50 cents per bulb – not a paltry sum when some CFLs sell for less than $2 at Wal-Mart. But, compared with the overall lifecycle cost of buying and using a bulb, recycling would be less than 1 percent, said Paul Abernathy, executive director of the Association of Lighting & Mercury Recyclers, “a small price to keep the mercury out of the environment.”

    Another obstacle lies in the fragility of the bulbs and their mercury content.

    “People who are going to accumulate these things from the public are going to have to address the fact that breakage will happen,” Abernathy said. “There's the potential for contamination, and I think right now people are a little hesitant to volunteer to take on this liability.”

    The U.S. government has no single recycling plan in mind, said Matt Hale, director of the EPA's Office of Solid Waste.

    Among the alternatives are special curbside collections by municipalities, mail-back programs by manufacturers and drop-off programs at various places, including retail stores that sell CFLs, he said.

    Some methods lend themselves to certain geographic areas more than others, Hale said, because of differences in population density, transportation infrastructure and proximity to recycling sites.

    State laws are also a factor.

    Federal regulations mandate recycling of fluorescent lighting, while exempting households and other small users. Some states, however, are strict. For example, California no longer allows anyone to throw CFLs in the trash, while Massachusetts requires manufacturers to implement recycling programs and meet certain targets.

    As technology advances, however, mercury could become less of an issue, at least as far as light bulbs are concerned.

    Last month General Electric Co. said it was working on doubling the energy efficiency of incandescent lights and eventually developing versions comparable with CFLs. These bulbs, which the company hopes to begin marketing in 2010, will cost less than fluorescents but they won't last as long.

    Meanwhile, some environmentally minded consumers are embracing CFLs and doing their best to dispose of them responsibly.

    “I have CFLs throughout my house,” said Lindberg, who lives in California. “None of them have burned out yet. I can't tell you what I'll do with them when they've burned out, but I won't throw them in the garbage.”
    Most questions regarding GroomerTALK are answered in the Board Help Talk Forum. Thanks for coming to our community a part of

  • #2
    Ooohhhhhh dear. My mom loves those things and she's a health nut.
    Heck, I've got 3 in my room.

    Stephen: Well if they are not broken you are safe, but please dispose of properly, not in the trash. Most recycle centers can tell you where. But I don't like them around, too easy to break and then what a serious problem and such a dangerous chemical. Certainly wouldn't at a business exposing other people and pets to it, yikes. We're checking for brands without mercury.


    • #3
      I didn't know you had to dispose of them differently. Oops, hope I haven't ruined the environment too bad, kind of counteracts the good I did by switching to them.
      "The most affectionate creature in the world is a wet dog." -Ambrose Bierce


      • #4
        Geez, I had no idea. We have them in our garage, and in our whole house. I was pulling one out the other day, and found two broken ones. I handled them and so did my mom and dad. Kinda scary.
        Scratch a dog and you'll find a permanent job. ~Franklin P. Jones


        • #5
          Thank You

          So much for this article. I feel really guilty. I use them at home & in my shop and a few months ago I dropped one on my kitchen floor as I was changing it. I swept up the glass and then Shop Vac-ed! OMG- if I vacuumed I know that I just probably put that dust out into the air for myself, my family & my pets to breathe in! I will pull all of these & give then to the Co. that takes my friends flo. tubes- even though I don't know where they take them... this is all I can do to stop another house and shop from using them- and I will tell everyone who'll listen. Thank you again!
          Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough. ~Franklin D. Roosevelt


          • #6
            I find this especially troubling because many countries have already made these type of light bulbs mandatory. The US is pushing for this type of legislation as well. What will happen when the only kind of light bulb you can buy is the compact fluorescent type?

            Stephen: The fact is a lot of people are waking up to realize none of our governments REALLY care about us.


            • #7
              Wow, wouldn't it be a crock if everyone thought autism was associated with mercury in the vaccines, but it turns out it was broken lightbulbs that were causing it?!

              As for why the lightbulbs might be more dangerous than strip lights, I don't know too many people who have strip lights all through their homes. Commercial lighting tends to be in buildings with higher ceilings, and behind plexiglass or whatever. So basically my answer is that maybe the strip lights aren't less dangerous, it's just that actual exposure is less likely to happen.

              Get this, my local electric company sent everyone in the county 2 "free" energy saving lightbulbs (without asking). However over the next 12 months there is a $1.00 fee per bulb that appears on the electric bill. So not only are we paying $12/bulb for something we didn't ask for, but now I realize that I put the bulb in my children's room in a lamp my 2 year old has already broken several bulbs out of (I'm going home tonight to switch out the bulb!).


              • #8
                THe good news is that LED lightbulbs are coming onton the market that will fit your regular light sockets. I was so happy about that because the compact flourescents make my migraines worse than they already are.

                Stephen: A surprising number of people don't know they are allergic to fluorescent bulbs of any kind. In my brief stint as a workers comp adjuster I saw such cases, medically verified.
                <a href="" target="_blank">My Blog</a> The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. –Mark Twain


                • #9
                  how much is too much

                  kinda dumb question but really, I don't think you need to freak if you are around one broken bulb, but please inform me if I am wrong. I don't think it will kill ya. But it does suck that people don't recycle. But since we are on that topic, how about batteries, plastic, and all the other toxic waste we humans produce? how many recycle pop cans? Use chemicals to kill fleas? how many of us use frontline? These all end up in landfills which end up in our food In my opinion the bulbs are at least saving energy which saves the earth. Just be careful with them, but thanks a lot for bringing the recycling thing to everyone's attention.


                  • #10
                    The amount in one bulb can be a hazard to a degree, and pets are going to the worst of it when they break on the floor I bet. We are getting mercury regularly today, preservatives in vaccines, tuna is now at record levels, and now this. Robert Kenndy Jr's book shows medical studies that indicate mercury levels in women today on average is alarming and being covered up basically.

                    CFL Fluorescent Light Bulbs: Great "Green" idea or Health Hazard?

                    Last Update: 2/12 2:07 pm

                    Related Links
                    EPA Bulb Clean Up Info
                    Reported by: John Matarese

                    The newest thing in energy conservation: Squiggly little fluorescent light bulbs.The Government is encouraging --some say almost forcing -- us to buy them.

                    But do these bulbs contain a hazard to our families...That the Government is not saying much about?

                    Michelle Pippin wonders. She has been buying compact fluorescent bulbs, or CFL's, to help save energy and "go green."

                    Michelle tells me "I've put them in my home...told my family and friends to put them in their I'm wondering if I've done the right thing."

                    This mother of a 3 year old worries if saving energy comes with a risk to her child.

                    Michelle was stunned by recent headlines about a woman in Ellsworth Maine hit with a $2,000 hazardous waste cleanup bill after she dropped a CFL bulb.

                    The Dirty Little Secret

                    What critics call their "dirty little secret" is that these bulbs contain the dangerous compound mercury.

                    Dr. Kim Dietrich, an Environmental Health professor says "there's reason to be concerned."

                    He says fluorescent bulbs must contain mercury to work...even though it's banned in thermometers due to its effect on the human nervous system.

                    But can one bulb be a hazard?

                    What's inside these Bulbs?

                    We asked an Environmental Engineering lab to test we could see for ourselves.

                    Research Assistant Professor Joo-Youp Lee shattered a bulb inside a sealed bag...then put the bag on a mercury vapor analyzer.

                    No question, he says, the bulb contained a measurable amount of mercury.

                    However, Dr Dietrich says the amount we found is minuscule compared to thermometers we used to put in our mouths.

                    Dr Dietrich says "it would take 100 shattered CFL bulbs to equal the amount of mercury in an older thermometer."

                    What if a Bulb Breaks?

                    Despite that reassuring news, the us EPA has a list of steps you should take if you break a bulb.

                    The EPA says open a window and ventilate the room for 15 minutes.
                    Then use cardboard to sweep up the remains of the bulb
                    Wearing rubber gloves, use a wet paper towel to wipe the area.
                    Finally, seal it all in a plastic bag, and dispose.
                    That's right: The EPA says do not vacuum the room, or you could spread mercury dust around.

                    But scientists like Dr. Margaret Kupferle have a bigger worry: The effect on the environment if millions of these eventually end up in the trash.

                    "These bulbs need to be disposed of as hazardous waste," she says, "They should not go into the landfill." But that's where many consumers toss them when they burn out.

                    Still Confused?

                    A safer option? Old style incandescent bulbs: But they use 5 times the energy, and will be phased out by 2014, by law.

                    All this leaves many consumers like Michelle Pippin unsure how "green" they want to go.

                    She says "I'd like to know if the benefits outweigh the drawbacks of these...If one breaks in my house!"

                    The Bottom Line

                    On a positive note, mercury is an issue only if these light bulbs normal use, they don't give off any vapors.

                    And remember, schools and businesses have used fluorescent bulbs containing mercury for years....without major concerns.

                    So decide if you can accept the risks, so you Don't Waste Your Money.
                    Most questions regarding GroomerTALK are answered in the Board Help Talk Forum. Thanks for coming to our community a part of


                    • #11
                      odd that I just read this tonight. I just replaced 12 fl/ bulbs in my salon with cool lights. What did I do with the burned out ones? I PUT THEM IN THE DUMPSTER!!! WHHHAAAA! I didn't know any better guess I could go "divin" in the am see if they are still there! ickkkk

                      Stephen: No if they are broken, geez, think of what sanitation workers face, mercury poisoning daily??? Never thought of that.


                      • #12
                        I also heard that they are going to eventually sell only compact fluorescents in Canada too. I've been reluctant to switch from regular bulbs because I get migraines, and fluorescent lighting really bothers me. Now I guess I have another reason to be freaked out. I guess I'll start hoarding regular lightbulbs until our country's supply runs out...


                        • #13
                          Several years ago I worked as a maintenance/janitorial supervisor for a local high school. The older style flourescent tubes had silver end pieces to them. These are the ones that have been mostly phased out of the 'system' because they contained higher amounts of mercury in them.

                          The newer bulbs have green end pieces and I was told that they did not contain any mercury and they could be disposed of in the school dumpsters. They were also supposed to last longer than the silver capped ones. I don't recall the number of bulbs in the high school, but we routinely went through several cases a year. The silver capped ones were put in special boxes and sent out to a recycle facility. The green ones we disposed of in the dumpsters.

                          At the end of my tenure, the school had put on an addition and all the lights in that addition were the squiggly kind or mini 2 and 4 bulbs. Nothing was said about the proper disposal of those. They seemed to burn out pretty quick, so maybe they aren't the ones talked about in those articles.

                          One of my duties was seeing to handing out the MSDS sheets to all departments that had any reportable quantity of hazmats. I do not recall seeing any MSDS sheets for light bulbs.

                          I'm not a chemical engineer, but I routinely used and issued out many types of chemicals. Some were harmless, but some would become toxic if mixed with other types of chemicals. For example muriatic acid (used to clean hard water spots and fungus from gym showers) and bleach (common fabric whitener) when mixed together will result in chlorine gas (poisonus). If you used a rag, towel, mop head with muriatic acid (also known as pool acid) and use another towel, rag, mop head with undiluted bleach (for disinfecting spilled body fluids/waste on floors, then put both of them (still wet) into a washer to clean... you could possibly not have to worry anymore about your next pay check.

                          I think society in general and businesses as a whole should be more aware of the dangers of 'household' chemicals and take the proper steps in avoiding any long lasting effects or dangers that these chemicals possess.
                          Last edited by bladesrunner; 08-24-08, 01:32 AM.


                          • #14
                            A couple years ago we switched to the compact fluorescents. As of yesterday we have officially switched back over. I guess my dad has read one too many articles on their danger. Think about all those light bulbs I threw away, without any clue to their danger. I didn't even know you shouldn't throw them away.
                            "The most affectionate creature in the world is a wet dog." -Ambrose Bierce


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Raffyroo View Post
                              Stephen: The fact is a lot of people are waking up to realize none of our governments REALLY care about us.
                              Stephen: Isn't it the lobbyists? The ones who only care about their own agenda? The ones who are soooo far left, or soooo far right, that none of them are normal? Sorry, couldn't help myself, but they're a little looney!

                              Tammy in Utah
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