Countries all over the world are banning the ubiquitous incandescent light bulb, ostensibly in order to protect the environment
While I applaud any changes that render the average home more efficient and makes better use of the world’s already strained energy generation infrastructure, I lament the short-sightedness, bandwagoning and lack of understanding that is catapulting our spiraled, green friend to the top of the light bulb charts.
Has a single government done an exhaustive cradle-to-grave study of the compact florescent (CF) light bulb?
Traditional incandescent bulbs contain 35 grams of materials, most of which is glass and 0.5 grams of which is tungsten – probably the most exotic and potentially dangerous material in a incandescent light bulb. There is also copper, tin and iron, and the material that “glues” the glass bulb to the contact base. All this material works together to provide approximately 1,000 hours of light with an average energy usage of 60 watts.
Contrast the CF with its average energy usage of 15 watts and a reported life expectancy of approaching 12,000 hours.The average CF bulb is comparable in weight to a standard bulb. Like a standard bulb, they contain glass, copper, tin and iron. While the CF bulb does not contain tungsten, it does contain approximately 5mg of mercury in the form of mercury vapor. An average CF also contains plastics, a phosphor,and the materials associated with ballast circuitry.
When one accidentally drops an incandescent bulb, one gets the broom a and sweeps up the pieces. When a CF is dropped, one must open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes. After this, the materials are discarded in a similar way to a standard bulb, while avoiding skin contact with the remains.
Once these bulbs are in the landfill, the incandescent bulb is leaching tungsten into the ground and surrounding water. While tungsten is not a particularly safe metal, it is infinitely safer in the environment than heavier metals like mercury – which is exactly what that CF bulb will be leaching into our drinking water.
According to wikipedia, mercury is a very dangerous toxin which affects the central nervous system, endocrine system, and kidneys. Long periods of exposure can result in severe brain damage and death. Pregnant women exposed to mercury may have children suffering from birth defects.
Mercury is frightening, but governments that enact bills that will put hazardous chemicals in every home, in bathrooms and kitchens and living rooms are even more frightening. This is unacceptable.
CFs do indeed last longer and use less energy, but CF’s contain dangerous chemicals. It is true that far fewer bulbs would make it to the landfill than if they were normal lights, but we’re still putting highly toxic and dangerous chemicals into our ground water and food chain every time we throw away a CF bulb.
Governments have made no provisions to force manufacturers to take these dangerous CF bulbs back at the end of their service lives. If companies were required to take back these bulbs and safely dispose of the hazardous materials, it would go a long way to making the CF a more environmentally friendly choice. But it still introduces mercury to the home.
Less dangerouns alternatives might already exist. LED – light emitting diodes – contain no mercury, and rival or surpass CF technology in terms of light produced per watt of energy used. LEDs have a specified lifetime of over 100,000 hours (more than eleven years!) before the light level produced drops below 80% of the rated brightness. LED lights are more expensive than standard incandescent bulbs, but would likely rival the cost of CF technology.
Many people find that LEDs produce a harsher light than incandescent or CF technology, due to the very narrow bandwidth of the light produced. It is not a perfect technology. But CF bulbs also produce a harsh light with strong coloring that can change the apparent color of paint on walls and upholstery on furniture.
While governments are jumping on the CF bandwagon in order to capitalize on public demand for greener initiatives and encouraging CF technology and adoption, shortsightedness may be dooming future generations to the threat of mercury poisoning.
Other technologies exist that may have fewer drawbacks than CF. LED may or may not be the answer, but before we fill our landfills and waterways with toxic metals, government should at least investigate all available technologies and support the ones that do the least amount of harm to our ecology and put the fewest dangerous toxins in the bedrooms of our children.