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Mercury Contamination Vs. Energy-Efficient Lightbulbs 801

phyrebyrd writes "How much money does it take to screw in a compact fluorescent lightbulb? About US$4.28 for the bulb and labor — unless you break the bulb. Then you, like Brandy Bridges of Ellsworth, Maine, could be looking at a cost of about US$2,004.28, which doesn't include the costs of frayed nerves and risks to health."
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Mercury Contamination Vs. Energy-Efficient Lightbulbs

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  • Does anyone else (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Archon-X ( 264195 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:31PM (#18928707)
    ..find these energy efficent bulbs really irritating?
    I'm all for saving the environment, but I hate the fact the bulbs have a 'warm up' period, and whatever 'colour' bulb I get, it still throws a nasty fluro hue.

    Is that just me?
    • by Falesh ( 1000255 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:34PM (#18928743) Homepage
      I want good environmental LED lights dag nabbit.
      • Re:Does anyone else (Score:5, Informative)

        by Carbon Blob ( 30194 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:01PM (#18929031)
        Here you go! []
      • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @03:30PM (#18931771) Homepage
        The CFLs aren't that bad, though, and they've certainly been getting better. The first CFLs that we got our house were rather blue, but the most recent batch we got has a very pleasing white to it (they're dimmable, too!). Besides, LEDs have narrow frequency ranges too, you know.

        As for the mercury, an incandescent light releases more mercury into the environment [] than a CFL bulb would if you were to take it, crack it open, and run it through an aerosolizer. How? Power plant mercury emissions. A CFL also has 1/125th as much mercury as a typical mercury thermometer, and 1/750th as much as an old-style mercury thermostat (which some of you in old houses might have).
        • Look at the Source (Score:5, Insightful)

          by nodvin ( 85067 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @07:15PM (#18934693) Homepage

          Steven J. Milloy is NOT a scientist but industry-paid hack [], is a columnist for Fox News and a paid advocate for Phillip Morris, ExxonMobil and other corporations. For years, Milloy has been scamming people on Fox News and on his junkscience site.

          This guy has been bought and paid for many times over by companies like Phillip Morris and Exxon Mobil.

          This report [] from the Union of Concerned Scientists documents how Milloy, headed a nonprofit organization called the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, which had been covertly created by the tobacco company Philip Morris in 1993 to manufacture uncertainty about the health hazards posed by secondhand smoke. Milloy also served as a member of the small 1998 Global Climate Science Team task force that mapped out ExxonMobil's disinformation strategy on global warming. Between 2000 and 2004, ExxonMobil gave $50,000 to Milloy's Advancement of Sound Science Center, and another $60,000 to an organization called the Free Enterprise Education Institute (a.k.a. Free Enterprise Action Institute), which is also registered to Milloy's home address.

          ExxonMobil also gave $130,000 to Milloy's "Free Enterprise Action Institute" between 1998-2005. The organization is registered under Milloy's name and home address.

          Milloy is also the former director of the "National Environmental Policy Institute". Yet another industry front group providing disinformation on climate science to which ExxonMobil gave at least $75,000.

          As others have stated, Milloy never mentions the large amounts of mercury being released from coal-fired power plants that has resulted in levels of mercury so high in lakes and streams of New England that state health agencies have to warn pregnant women and young children not to eat too much fish caught from these waters. Milloy never mentions that his friends in the power industry (and unfortunately the current administrators in the EPA) fought tooth and nail to prevent the installation of equipment on the power plants to remove the large amounts of mercury released to the air.

          As has been pointed out, the mercury in the CFL bulbs (unlike that being released from power plants) is contained and the bulbs can be recycled. Should we eventually move to other solutions with less potential for mercury contamination like LED bulbs. Absolutely! But LED bulbs are even more expensive now than CFLs.

          What people like Milloy do and have done for years is nothing less then criminal: Take money from industry to lie and confuse Americans about the dangers of smoking, concerns about global warming, and other health, safety, and consumer issues.

    • by FatSean ( 18753 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:35PM (#18928749) Homepage Journal
      If you buy the cheap ones at department stores, you will be disappointed. Go to a lighting specialist and pay a bit more.

      I find this scare-mongering over mercury to be amusing. Have you ever broken an old-school tube flouro? You know, the ones with 10 to 100 times the mercury of modern Compact Flouro bulbs? Yeah.

      • by Internet_Communist ( 592634 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:56PM (#18928975) Homepage
        Yeah, scare-mongering over mercury is pretty common. I remember when I was a kid I used to break open those little glass-tubes from old thermostats and collect the mercury. Safe? Eh, probably not, but I'm still alive and I don't have mercury poisoning. After all, elemental mercury isn't really the dangerous one anyway, it's organic mercury that's really dangerous, like good 'ol dimethylmercury [] which even a tiny amount will pass right through a pair of rubber gloves and kill you []. Elemental mercury? Mercury vapor accumulating is probably the biggest risk, but I can't imagine the tiny amounts in a CFL being that big of a deal. It sounds like from the article that they had found high levels of mercury vapor, though I still question whether a single CFL bulb is enough to cause the amount of contamination the story claims.
        • by mrfunnypants ( 107364 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:09PM (#18929193)
          Funny thing is the article makes a very good point that you have chosen to ignore.

          I agree that the potential for one bulb to cause a problem is very small, as my dad use to play with liquid mercury in the chemistry lab he worked at and he was perfectly fine.

          The issue is when you take 5mg of mercury and multiply it by the number of people who just toss these in landfills. Let us take a reasonably small number of say 40,000 bulbs in your local landfill that is 200,000 mg of mercury. I can assure you that 200,000 mg could easily leach into your local water supply if the land fill is poorly designed or overused (which happens frequently).

          As the story claims the issue will be cleaning up these bulbs when they have been used, which should be addressed now.
          • Disposal? (Score:5, Interesting)

            by norminator ( 784674 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:31PM (#18929657)
            We looked at buying some CFL bulbs the other day. My wife is a little paranoid about some things, including mercury, so she isn't too sure about using the CFL's. But I thought it's interesting how on the boxes they say that they contain mercury, and to dispose of them properly. How do you dispose of mercury properly? I once had a mercury thermometer that broke open and made a mess, so I called around to a few places, not wanting to just drop it in the trash. No one could tell me how to dispose of it. The best answer I got was to take it to my local waste transfer station where I left a bag of contaminated items, including carpet, with a pile of what looked like chemical cleaners and stuff. I think I even had to pay a small fee.

            A few months later, my kids fried our microwave oven. Again, I tried to find out what the best way to dispose of a microwave is. Noone would give me a straight answer. I don't even know what exactly is in a microwave, but I'm sure there's some stuff that shouldn't be in the groundwater supply. I ended up tossing it in a dumpster, because I couldn't get any answers.

            I think it's great that Wal-mart and others are pushing CFL's, but I wish there was more information available about how to get rid of old bulbs like this. And batteries. Global Warming is important, but I think that slowly poisoning our soil and water isn't a good thing, either. But the manufacturers wash their hands of it all by saying "Dispose of Properly". So how do I dispose of it?
            • Re:Disposal? (Score:5, Informative)

              by mrfunnypants ( 107364 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:40PM (#18929829)
              Mercury spills happen infrequently across the country in university chemistry labs. Typically zinc or sulfur powder is used which binds mercury followed by proper disposal by the university environment, health, and safety department. Many universities are switching to alcohol based thermometers to prevent this.

              If you spill mercury I would recommend the following from the Ohio State website:

              IMPORTANT NOTES !!! Pregnant women and children should be removed from a spill site and should never be
              included in cleanup activities. If a resident has already vacuumed the mercury spill, walked through the spill, or
              otherwise extended the spill beyond its initial spill location, disregard the small mercury spills fact sheet and
              the mercury cleanup kit document and contact the Ohio EPA's spill hotline at 1-800-282-9378. If a resident have
              properly contained the spill, complete the first five steps of the "Small Mercury Spills - What should you do?"
              fact sheet. There are mercury spill kits commercially available and convenient. But these kits can be expensive
              and are not absolutely necessary to clean up a small, contained mercury spill (such as a fever thermometer or
              mercury switch break). The following are some common household items that could be used to construct an
              in-home mercury cleanup kit for a small, contained spill:
              Rubber gloves
              Rubber squeegee
              Tape (use wide duct, or masking)
              Stiff index card
              Eye dropper
              Syringe without needle
              Plastic containers with lids
              Wide mouth container
              Plastic bags with zipper seal
              Plastic sheeting
              Trash bags
              Tray or box
              Powdered sulfur *1
              Powdered zinc *2
              Powdered sulfur and zinc can be found at garden supply stores or chemical supply houses.
              These powders do not prevent mercury vapors, but bind the mercury to the powders for cleanup.
              *1- Sulfur powder turns from yellow to brown when it comes in contact with mercury.
              *2- Zinc powder amalgamates (bonds with) mercury.
              Note: Any item used during a mercury spill cleanup should be double-bagged and disposed of safely. If the
              spill was properly contained and cleaned, environmental air testing may not be necessary for spills as small as
              a broken fever thermometer. However, a person may wish to have their residence tested to ensure safe levels
              for re-occupancy.
              • Re:Disposal? (Score:4, Informative)

                by drogers47 ( 899881 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @03:08PM (#18931431)
                Typically zinc or sulfur powder is used which binds mercury followed by proper disposal...

                Yep, I've used sulphur powder twice for spills, once in a chem lab and once from a thermometer at home.

                Sulphur powder is preferred over zinc for home use. Sulphur is readily purchased from a drugstore, is inexpensive, has no odor when used, is non-staining to clothing/rugs/pets/furniture, and is non-toxic as long as you don't take a match to it.

                Whereas zinc powder is (surprise!) flammable.

                Make sure you get *powdered* sulphur. It looks like yellow chalk dust. Coarse granules are much less effective for a couple of reasons.

                Directions for use (assumes you're dealing with the 5 mg-10 mg mercury of a CFL):

                1. Pick up glass first.

                2. Sprinkle the dry sulphur powder wherever you think the mercury went. You can use lots, but piles of sulphur powder are overkill.

                2. Work it into the area, say by spreading with a disposable cloth. (Careful of glass though!)

                3. Wipe it up. Since it's bright yellow, it's easy to see where to clean. Use dry or wet cloth for this. Final clean with vacuum cleaner is optional.

                4. Dispose in trash. Sulphur powder is stable and benign to the environment. As others have pointed out, 5 mg mercury in a sulphur amalgam is a low risk.

                While mercury does turn dry sulphur a brown color, you don't get enough mercury from a CFL for the brown to be visible to you.

            • Re:Disposal? (Score:4, Informative)

              by Maitri ( 938818 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @03:05PM (#18931383)
              You are supposed to recycle them! Look for a someone who does it in your area.

              Here are some places to look for more information:

              Also, for those of you guessing about how many bulbs there are in circulation:
              "The Mercury from on fluorescent bulb can pollute 6000 gallons of water beyond safe levels for drinking"
              "The Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers (ALMR) estimates that at least 400 million mercury lamps are being disposed of annually as part of the municipal solid waste stream and only 20 percent of all mercury lamps are being recycled."
              "All fluorescent lamps contain mercury. In fact, the standard fluorescent bulb has about 20 milligrams of mercury."

              So - that means that about 8,000,000,000 milligrams or 17,637 pounds of mercury is being put into our environment in the United States. Not a trivial matter.
          • how much mercury? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by falconwolf ( 725481 ) <> on Monday April 30, 2007 @02:28PM (#18930749)

            The issue is when you take 5mg of mercury and multiply it by the number of people who just toss these in landfills. Let us take a reasonably small number of say 40,000 bulbs in your local landfill that is 200,000 mg of mercury. I can assure you that 200,000 mg could easily leach into your local water supply if the land fill is poorly designed or overused (which happens frequently).

            Ah but burning coal, which many powerplants burn to produce energy, releases mercury too. By using CFLs people don't use as much power and therfore not as much coal is burned. Niether this article nor you mention this. If it's just concern for mercury then a comparison of how much mercury is released by burning coal for the power to light incandescents and CFLs vr how much mercury is in CFLs needs to be done. However it's not so simple because by using CFLs greenhouse gas emissions are also cut, then there the pollution from coal mining.

            I bet an overall analysis, ROI or TCO, of incandsescent lights and CFLs will conclude CFLs are better. Oh, also you mention about CFLs ending up in landfills however some places take them for recycling. I can't vouch for it but here's a business that recycles and makes equipment to recycle CFLs, Air Cycle [].

          • by T5 ( 308759 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @03:21PM (#18931645)
            200,000 mg = 200 grams, the weight of just more than half a can of soda pop. Mercury is 13.54 times denser than water. 200g/13.54 = 14.77 centiliters of mercury, about half a liquid ounce in total volume. In the grand scheme of tens of thousands of gallons of captured liquid runoff in a typical landfill, that's literally a drop in the bucket, and a tiny one at that. And this mercury has to become methylated to become bioavailable. It is likely that some of this will go through this process. And it's likely some will not.

            And if your landfill has problems containing their liquids, whose bacterial content alone is far, far more potentially devastating than your potential mercury problem, your local environmental protection agency will shut them down until it's addressed. Fines are steep for this sort of mismanagement.

            Is this mercury a problem? Maybe. But let's not let big, scary numbers like "200,000" incite fear where there should be none. And let's not "point source" this problem either. Do you have any idea of how much less coal is likely to be burned using these bulbs? I'd say that the mercury emissions from the coal burned to provide electricity for an equivalent amount of light from older incandescent light bulbs eclipse the mercury that could potentially escape from these bulbs. It's got to be a fair amount of the 48 tons or so that the USEPA claims coal fired plants in the US alone emit each year.

            This is yet another case of TANSTAAFL - "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch".
      • by Dr Caleb ( 121505 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:57PM (#18928977) Homepage Journal
        "I find this scare-mongering over mercury to be amusing. "

        As do I. Why would you HAZMAT a room for 5mg of mercury vapour that will float out the window?

        When you break a thermometer: []

        or when you break an old school (10mg/HG) tube: []
      • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:00PM (#18929005) Homepage Journal

        Have you ever broken an old-school tube flouro? You know, the ones with 10 to 100 times the mercury of modern Compact Flouro bulbs?

        I can't tell what you're trying to say here. Are you trying to say the risk of breakage is minimal? Because I've broken both types before. Are you trying to say that the impact is minimal compared to the old ones? That is a stupid argument; if I shoot you, you are not going to invite me to stab you because what the fuck, it's nothing compared to being shot.

        • ...of CFLs being a dangerous source of mercury. The fact is, that old style tubes in landfills comprise more
          'dangerous mercury' than every CFL ever created.

          Mercury is bad yes, but this is a non-issue...there was no out-cry over the tube flouros. There were no discernable effects from the much higher rates of mercury in those tubes, why should there be from the CFLs? It smells to me like this is the work of an anti-earthist who wants to save a few nickles.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by eonlabs ( 921625 )
        Anyone want to test all the walmarts in the country.
        I'm pretty certain that at least one flourescent or compact flourescent bulb has been broken there in the last year.

        Any thoughts on the potential for every place selling these things to be a considerable hazardous waste zone?

        Note this is considerable with respect to the room in TFA
      • by ZeeExSixAre ( 790130 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:13PM (#18929273)
        I don't know if it was just me, but if you guys remember that scene in The 40-year-Old Virgin where they're breaking fluorescent tubes against each other's legs, then shouldn't all the actors in that scene be dead with how much mercury was floating around there?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      No it isn't just you. About 50 people say this whenever the words "compact" "florescent" or "lightbulb" come up in an article. And the answer is spend more money. Yes, that's right... the cheapest possible bulbs kinda suck, big surprise. Some brands of compact florescent lightbulbs have no warm up period and give off perfectly balanced light in the visible spectrum and don't flicker at a visible frequency. Other brands take an hour to warm up, have green light, and flicker at 50Hz.

      The challenge is find
      • by Archon-X ( 264195 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:45PM (#18928877)
        I purposely went and bought the most expensive one[s] I could find to try to avoid any potential problems, perhaps I just got a bad brand / type.

        The ones I have don't flicker, but have a 30-40 second warm up period, which would be fine if it was an office environment - but in a house - you generally stumble into a room, and flick on the light to avoid tripping over shit, but with the CFLs, you get to vaguely see what you just stubbed your toe on...
      • by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:02PM (#18929047) Homepage Journal
        Well, the first thing I thought of when reading this article was...I'd never heard before of a light bulb potentially requiring special 'effort' to dispose of.

        Like most people, when something no longer works, it goes in the trash. After the CFL's start making inroads into most houses...will we soon then be forced to take our bulbs to a special disposal unit or be taxed to cover the cost of disposal of these?

        Most people do not recycle, do not haul stuff to be disposed of in an orderly, environmentally sensitive way. They throw it in the trash, and the trash man hauls it off to 'somewhere'. Will the mercury in these bulbs make that even worse than it is today?

        I'm not really gonna want to buy and use something unless it is economically beneficial to me, or makes life easier.

        • by berashith ( 222128 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:18PM (#18929355)
          without anything solid to back this up, I will give you the expanation that I have received for this exact question.

          The amount of mercury in the compact flourescent bulb is less than the amount of mercury used in the creation and powering of incandescent bulbs over their lifetime. There is a potential hidden advantage to the compact bulb in that the mercury is contained, which is less harmful than the mercury spewed into the air by the power plant that powered the older bulb.

          Less than perfect, but a good start and better than doing nothing.
        • by Teun ( 17872 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:49PM (#18929981) Homepage
          As an often times admirer of things American I usually don't like comments that say "You must be American", but I'm afraid I can't avoid it here.

          In Europe we've always had much more expensive energy than you guys in the USofA and by consequence we've for many years been keen adopters of money savers like these bulbs.
          At the same time we've grown used to separating our waste and disposing of it in a safe way.
          In (Continental!) Western Europe landfills are now the exception. Fluorescent bulbs have since many years been labelled as hazardous waste and are collected as such, as a matter of fact a retailer selling them has to provide a return point for recycling.

          Like other dubious explanations of your constitution you might feel you have the right to dump anything in a landfill but that does not make it wise.
    • Re:Does anyone else (Score:4, Informative)

      by Vellmont ( 569020 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:37PM (#18928781) Homepage

      Is that just me?

      Yes and no. Your problem is you're grouping all CF bulbs together. Some have horrible colors and a relatively long (.5 to 1 second) warm up time. Others are quite close to incandescents in color, and have an effectively instant warm up time.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by EvanED ( 569694 )
        Some have horrible colors and a relatively long (.5 to 1 second) warm up time

        To be fair, some (like the one in my bathroom) have a 1/2 turn on time but then a very long (~1 minute) warm up time. It comes on bright enough (maybe like a 50W incandescent), but after being on for close to a minute it suddenly ramps over a few seconds up to probably 150% of its previous brightness, then stays there.

        It's a little weird, but it's not too bad.

        (These are made by GE, so they aren't Billy Bob's Light Warehouse brand.
      • by Scrameustache ( 459504 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:11PM (#18929219) Homepage Journal

        quite close to incandescents in color, and have an effectively instant warm up time.
        Sure, and the dirty corn syrup they serve at IHOP is quite close to maple syrup?
        The yellow oily stuff they put on movie popcorn is quite close to butter?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ryanov ( 193048 )
      Yes and no. First off, warm up period? Who cares? I've heard it's the same thing with TV's -- these days they always consume a little bit of power so they can be instant on. Honestly, I'm not in so much of a rush that I need to consume extra energy all the time for things like this. 30 seconds is not an unreasonable amount of time to wait for full brightness. You CAN see while the light is not 100% warmed up.

      As for color, I mine don't look fluorescent at all. I honestly can't tell the difference until I loo
    • Re:Does anyone else (Score:5, Informative)

      by metamatic ( 202216 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:59PM (#18928999) Homepage Journal
      It's just you.

      Popular Mechanics tested a bunch of CFL bulbs against incandescents, and the CFLs scored higher than the incandescents. improvement/4215199.html?series=15 []
  • How about LEDs then (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WormholeFiend ( 674934 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:33PM (#18928729)
    What's the pollution/contamination potential for LED-equivalent screw-in bulbs? (Including at the manufacturing level)
    • by malfunct ( 120790 ) * on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:40PM (#18928825) Homepage
      I think that there is no Mecury in LED's and need not be any lead the LED's are a win over CFL's in that department. The downside is that currently LED's are either far more expensive or far less bright than CFL's. I looked into it the other day and found that its $30 for a 20 lumen (compared to about 200 lumen for 60W incandecent) LED light bulb and its light was highly directional so not appropriate for standard overhead lighting.
    • by networkBoy ( 774728 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:42PM (#18928845) Journal
      Very low pollution. Most FABs emit water cleaner than they take it in. LEDs can be produced lead free, and indium arsenic levels are exceptionally low.
  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:34PM (#18928737)
    Once again we see that every environmental action involves a trade-off of some kind. Sometimes it means loss of job (as in the timber industry), sometimes it means annoyance and inconvenience (as with "low flow" toilets and showerheads), etc. But there is ALWAYS a trade-off. Contrary to what some environmentalists would have us believe, there is always a price to be paid for the "Green" life. And sometimes the price is ultimately more damaging to society and the environment than its worth.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by PsychosisC ( 620748 )

      The article is a bit too one-sided on the mercury issue.

      From CFL's wiki entry []:

      Note that coal power plants are the "the largest uncontrolled industrial source of mercury emissions in Canada". According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), (when coal power is used) the mercury released from powering an incandescent bulb for five years exceeds the total of (a) the mercury released by powering a comparably luminous CFL for the same period and (b) the mercury contained in the lamp. It should be noted,

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by drinkypoo ( 153816 )

        If CFLs are recycled and the mercury reclaimed, the equation tilts towards CFLs


        Many major US cities still don't even have curbside recycling for lucrative materials like aluminum.

        The vast majority of people won't recycle anything that they can't do at their curbside.

        Almost everyone left will recycle something only if they need to in order to keep the waste out of their yard (dirty oil and coolant, for example) or if there is a sizable deposit that they need to recover. Which means tha

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Red Flayer ( 890720 )
          Good point re: people not recycling unless there is a pressing need to. However, it doesn't much change the environmental impact of incandescents vs. CFLs.

          Which means that the vast majority of CFLs are going right into the trash. Which means that the equation is tilted significantly towards incandescents.

          Except for the fact that the extra power consumed by incandescents releases more mercury than is in the CFB, given the current coal plant emissions and proportion of US power generated from coal.

          Never min

    • by iamlucky13 ( 795185 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:47PM (#18929947)
      I can't really understand why, perhaps a knee-jerk reaction against the self-righteous tone environmentalists usually assume, but the article seems to be written more as an argument against using CFL rather than a simple report on the compromise. It takes an easy and fitting swipe at the idea of banning incandescents as a start, but after flirting with the idea that it might be an economic conspiracy perpetrated by Walmart and Home Depot, the second half of the article is basically a rant about the fact that CFL's are highly recommended, despite their mercury, by the same people who fret about mercury contamination from other sources.

      Now as many slashdotters know, because this has been discussed multiple times before, this journalist doesn't know what he's talking about with respect to the latter two points (I agree with him on the foolishness of legally banning incandescents). Although CFL's cost on around 3-5 times as much as incandescents, they're also rated to last 5 times as long (although noisy power or heat can reduce that), meaning Walmart sells the same gross value and the user invests the same amount over long time periods...not counting the reduced power bill.

      And flat out contrary to his contention that environmentalists ignore the mercury content in CFL's, the EPA did a study examining the amount of mercury contained in CFL's versus that contained in fossil fuels. They found that the adoption of CFL's reduced the net mercury released into the environment because of the power saved, which means less coal burned, taking into account the fraction of power that comes from coal. Furthermore, this study did not take into controlled bulb disposal, which is mandated in some US states for large volume users of fluorescents and further reduces the release of mercury.

      The two valid subpoints he has are first that the bulbs are a point-source of mercury. I mentioned proper disposal above, but contamination in the case of breakage is a compromise that's been with us as long as fluorescents have, even longer actually with mercury thermometers. The second is that they are manufactured mostly in India and China, which are beyond our environmental controls. Of course, that assumes the plants over there are releasing harmful amounts of mercury into the environment, is irrelevant to his financial argument of cleanup costs to the US economy, and is largely irrelevant to the general case for using CFL's, assuming the mercury can be acceptably controlled at both manufacture and disposal.

      With the author apparently either ignorant or picking and choosing facts to present at will, it seems his position as publisher of is quite ironic. He's certainly not helping readers make an informed decision in this case.
  • FUD - UrbanLegend (Score:5, Informative)

    by lupine ( 100665 ) * on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:36PM (#18928761) Journal
    This is an urban legend propagated by conservative propaganda sites. Good thing we have editors to filter this stuff out for us...

    There is very little mercury in CFLs, you are in more danger of getting cut by the glass than you are of getting mercury poisoning. hange_light/downloads/Fact_Sheet_Mercury.pdf []

    I switched my house to CFLs and started saving $15-20 per month. If everyone did this then the big power companies would see a dent in their bottom line and so they start spreading lies like this.
    • Re:FUD - UrbanLegend (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Tom Womack ( 8005 ) <> on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:55PM (#18928971) Homepage
      Certainly there are urban legends around which are propagated by conservative propaganda sites.

      But that there are five milligrams of Hg in a compact-fluorescent lightbulb is not one of them; in particular, the link that you provided admits that.

      I too have a house full of CFLs - people complaining that 60-watt-equivalent CFLs are too dim are taking slightly the wrong approach, CFLs are so much more efficient than incandescent lights that you can put, into a fitting that can only handle 60 watts of heat, a 23-watt CFL which is equivalent to a 150-watt incandescent. My study is lit with three 23-watt CFLs, which provides a really excellent reading light ... with the low power consumption, you can use cheapest-available desk lamps to put the bulbs in, and place them wherever's convenient.
    • by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:02PM (#18929045) Journal

      This is an urban legend propagated by conservative propaganda sites.
      Like the National Post [], which is where TFA is.

      The National Post isn't as ardently neo-con as it used to be, since the backlash against conservatism made it wholly unprofitable to be so -- but it's still known to be far from objective.

      If anything, the National Post leans libertarian conservative, so anything they can print to discredit goverment "interference" and the environmental movement, such as this FUD article about the potential financial nightmare of breaking a CFB, is on board with their philosophy.

      What bothers me is that the less sceptical people who read the article will simply discredit environmentally sound policies even more than they do already.
  • Hazmat (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rlp ( 11898 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:38PM (#18928807)
    Last year, a local middle school was locked down and a hazmat team was called in. The kids were kept locked inside for several hours after the normal release time, cause someone had inadvertently dropped and broken a mercury thermometer OUTSIDE the school.

    Times have changed, I remember rolling around blobs of mercury on lab tables in school.
    • Re:Hazmat (Score:5, Insightful)

      by nine-times ( 778537 ) <> on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:12PM (#18929249) Homepage

      It's overreaction. Mercury really isn't that dangerous. I mean, it's not safe either, but the really horrific things happened back when scientists were so fascinated by the stuff that they'd enclose themselves in small, poorly ventillated rooms with big pools of mercury evaporating into the air, and sometimes even submerge large portions of their bodies into tubs full of mercury.

      So, yeah, if you break a thermometer, don't clean it up with your tongue. Don't feed your kids diets consisting only of tuna, because their bodies are small and mercury builds up. But if you break a thermometer or CF bulb, don't worry about it. Even if you get a little on your hands, it's not going to kill you.

  • by nweaver ( 113078 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:40PM (#18928827) Homepage
    6x higher than very low state standards?

    Just take a fan and blow out the room for a couple of days.
  • Steven Milloy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Profane MuthaFucka ( 574406 ) * <> on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:41PM (#18928837) Homepage Journal
    He's the Junk Science guy, which means that you ought to take this entire article with a mountain of salt. Even with the mercury in the CFL, you're ahead of the game when you consider the energy savings. A lot of electricity is produced with coal, and that puts out more mercury than the CFL contains over the life of the bulb.

    But there's a lesson here - if you break a CFL, open the windows and clean it up yourself. Don't lick the floor where it broke. Don't gnaw on the pieces of broken glass. Don't scrape the coating from the inside of the bulb, dissolve it in vodka, and inject it into your neck. Use common sense.

    There's no need to call the government to help you clean up a broken lightbulb. This woman deserves what she gets, just for wasting people's time. The bureaucrats probably don't want to mess with her house either, but they are *doing what they are paid to do* and if they didn't take care of the reported problem, someone could accuse them of not doing their job.

    • by the_humeister ( 922869 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:10PM (#18929217)

      But there's a lesson here - if you break a CFL, open the windows and clean it up yourself. Don't lick the floor where it broke. Don't gnaw on the pieces of broken glass. Don't scrape the coating from the inside of the bulb, dissolve it in vodka, and inject it into your neck. Use common sense.

      Where were you when my CFL broke? Now I have broken teeth and this weird feeling like I'm drunk...
    • by drew ( 2081 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:14PM (#18929285) Homepage
      No kidding. The article was so obviously biased that I was about ready to turn my monitor on its side...
  • by phrostie ( 121428 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:42PM (#18928843)
    will Walmart, Homedepot, etc be offering s drop off for old burned out CFLs(yes they do burn out too) like autozone does for old oil and batteries?
  • by OctoberSky ( 888619 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:45PM (#18928887)
    Have you ever heard the term "Mad as a Hatter"? Maybe, but you probably do know who the Mad Hatter is.

    Mad as a Hatter is a term that stems from "Hatters" (hat makers) using Mercury in the formation of hats. It was used in the process of removing hair from animal hides. All the hatters ultimately went insane or had the other symptons of mercury poisioning.

    That's where the term comes from, and that's where the idea for the "Mad Hatter" came from for Alice in Wonderland. What does this have to do with the article? Nothing really, just trying to spread some random information.
  • The author (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mike449 ( 238450 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:48PM (#18928905)
    The author of TFA is Steven Milloy, who publishes It is devoted to "debunking the global warming myth", telling the truth about virtues of dioxin and to other similar issues.
    The site is an obvious propaganda mouthpiece.
  • by Peter Simpson ( 112887 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:51PM (#18928931)
    and includes comments from several officials, saying that this incident was nothing to get worked up about. m_content&task=view&id=7446&Itemid=31 []

    And for those who are concerned about CFL mercury in the waste stream -- CFLs are nothing more than smaller versions of the fluorescent tubes we have been throwing in our landfills since the 50s. That's right, every industial building and school in the US uses them and has for the last 50 years. So, the problem isn't new. And the white powder isn't's the phosphor. That's not to say that recycling them wouldn't be a really good idea. It's being done commercially, but not yet for consumers in most places.

  • by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:52PM (#18928939) Homepage Journal
    In a 'feel good' move, the premier of Ontario decided that his party will ban incandescent light bulbs by 2012. [] I am going to make me a business selling those in Ontario on the black market. CFLs can go screw themselves, I am not gonna use them.
  • by Acer500 ( 846698 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:55PM (#18928965) Journal
    According to the article, after breaking the lightbulb in her daughter's bedroom, Mrs Bridges called Home Depot which directed her to Poison Control hotline which directed her to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, which sent a specialist.

    The specialist found an unacceptable quantity of mercury (six times the "safe" level), and directed Mrs Bridges to a cleanup firm that gave the U$ 2.000 estimate (way high in my opinion, is it that hard to clean?).

    Insurance, as usual, won't cover it (sounds reasonable this time).

    An interesting point is that each CFL contains five milligrams of mercury, and Maine's "safety" standard is 300 nanograms per cubic meter.

    By comparison, according to Wikipedia, "the typical "fever thermometer" contains between 0.5 to 3 g (.3 to 1.7 dr) of elemental mercury." mometer []

    She could have saved some money by reading this:

    "Cleaning Up Small Mercury Spills, For spills of less than two tablespoons:" by the government of Michigan,1607,7-135-3307_2969 3_4175-11751--,00.html []

    or this (PDF warning) ls.pdf []

    Not every CFL has that much mercury: ustainability/archive_2006/ p?main=global&parent=4390&id=gl_en_news&lang=en []

    Still, it's good to be warned and be aware about the potential environmental hazard.
  • Schitzoid (Score:5, Informative)

    by linuxwrangler ( 582055 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:55PM (#18928967)
    I went to an art-show/Earth Day event a couple blocks from my house Saturday (yes, our town has it a week late). They had representatives of various environmental and recycling organizations.

    The sign-in sheet had a place to check a box "pledging" to convert one incandescent lamp to flourescent. So I asked about where to return them when they die. After all, safe and convenient disposal is a critical component of encouraging their use.

    Man, you would have thought I was watching roaches scurry when the light came on.

    Dump them in the trash? No! - that's illegal dumping of toxic waste.

    Save them and take them to the thrice-yearly e-waste event? No! - they are specifically prohibited.

    Take them to the recycling center a couple blocks from my house? No! - "We're supposed to be self-supporting and the permit cost would bankrupt us."

    Pretty much the only option provided was to wait for the "convenient" once-a-month Saturday the waste facility is open, put the burned-out bulb in my car, drive a half-dozen miles to the waste facility (they were helpful in telling me how to get to the facility while dodging the most dangerous parts of Richmond), wait in line (start/stop engine repeatedly or idle constantly), fill out paperwork, hand them the bulb, drive a half-dozen miles back home.

    If that's the best the powers-that-be can come up with, they shouldn't be surprised that CFL adoption is less than they hoped. With cans, bottles and electronics they tack on a recycling fee up-front. And any store that sells ni-cads is required to accept them for recycling. Seems like a couple ideas that should be considered for flourescents.
    • Re:Schitzoid (Score:5, Insightful)

      by cje ( 33931 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:24PM (#18929503) Homepage
      You're kidding, right? Do you individually drive dead batteries down to the proper disposal facility when you replace them, too? This may sound a bit goofy (work with me here) but you understand that you do have the option of storing burnt-out CFLs yourself until you have enough to warrant a trip down to a recycling facility? I've got a paper grocery sack sitting on a shelf in my garage. When I replaced the bulbs in my house, I put the original CFL packaging in the sack. When they burn out (none have burnt out yet, after 1.5 years or so), I'll just replace them and store them in the sack. You're complaining about a trip that you should only have to make once every three years or so.

      I'm all for a rational debate about the merits and demerits of CFLs, but sometimes it seems like people are just looking for excuses to complain about them -- hence all the "OMG MERCURY" and "disposal hassle" silliness.
  • by frankie ( 91710 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @12:58PM (#18928985) Journal
    1. The article is NOT a news piece, it's an op/ed essay. Its author, Steven Milloy, is better known as the owner of [], and is presenting CFLs in the worst possible light.
    2. The Bridges family is out $2000 (and this sensationalist story consequently exists at all) mainly because whoever they talked to at Maine poison control hotline went way overboard. EPA recommendations [] say that a small amount of mercury (5mg qualifies as small) can easily be cleaned up by a normal person without much trouble.
    • by FFFish ( 7567 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:34PM (#18929715) Homepage
      Repeat: Milloy is an ass and an idiot.

      It is worth noting that he completely fails to identify an important fact: even if all CFLs were to break open, the mercury released would be less than would be released if the lights had remained incandescent: coal-fired power is pumping horrendous amounts of mercury into the air.

      Little wonder we're seeing such a spike in weird neurological problems these days. Autism up? Gosh, can't imagine why...
  • Overreaction? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by proxima ( 165692 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:02PM (#18929059)
    The amount of mercury in CFLs is quite small. The concern is their buildup in landfills. Still, if your electricity comes from coal, the energy savings from using a CFL involves substantially less mercury than using an incandescent. In addition, the coal power plants spew pollution into the air.

    As the Wikipedia page [] notes, this calculation changes because of two trends. Better environmental controls on coal plants make the mercury used in CFLs worse, while greater adoption of recycling makes CFLs better.

    Aside from concerns about aesthetics (I don't like incandescent lighting much, but YMMV), this is really one of the last complaints about CFLs. The article was a poorly researched rant about how environmentalists are hypocrites and things which seem "green" really aren't. Sometimes that's true, but with CFLs, it's almost a no-brainer.

    Take, for example, the EPA's factsheet [] on CFLs. It suggests that this person mentioned in TFA overreacted to the light bulb break. The instructions for cleanup are:

    Safe cleanup precautions: If a CFL breaks in your home, open nearby windows to disperse any vapor that may escape, carefully sweep up the fragments (do not use your hands) and wipe the area with a disposable paper towel to remove all glass fragments. Do not use a vacuum. Place all fragments in a sealed plastic bag and follow disposal instructions above.

    We're talking about 4mg of mercury here, compared with 500mg in a thermometer.

    Basically, CFLs should be recycled to reap all of the environmental benefits. If you buy replacements for burned out bulbs (a rare event), just store the old bulb in the new packaging (they tend to be resealable). Wait until you have a number of them to recycle, and then do it. This isn't the first consumer item we should be treating like this: rechargeable batteries (especially lithium-ion) should be recycled as well. I have several dead laptop batteries which await eventual recycling. For that matter, items like CRT monitors have lead in them, and should also be recycled properly.

    So the article is just FUD about what should be an easy choice for anyone who doesn't mind the aesthetics of CFLs.
  • by Cerberus7 ( 66071 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:04PM (#18929079)
    Several people have mentioned getting "better" CFLs, for those of us who have had crappy experiences with the bulbs. Nobody has mentioned brands or models. My question, then, is for those of you who say we need to try the "better" bulbs, what are you talking about, exactly? "Better" doesn't tell me what I should be looking for.
  • by tji ( 74570 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:06PM (#18929127)
    A quick search on this shows a lot of polarized information.. Depending on the writer's bias, CFLs are either evil and nasty or the savior of humanity. It's like getting news from Ann Coulter and Michael Moore.

    The pro-CFLs say more mercury will be released by powering an incandescent bulb. But, not all power is from Coal plants, and what about the so-called "Clean Coal", which presumably reduces the amount of mercury pollution?

    How does the 4-5mg of Mercury compare to other household or common industrial sources?

    How about comparisons with recent improvements in incandescents, or improvements in LED lighting?

    I already use CFLs. But, when I first bought them I wasn't aware of the possible hazards. I don't know what local options I have for disposal.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      and what about the so-called "Clean Coal", which presumably reduces the amount of mercury pollution?
      Bullshit propaganda from the coal mine owners who do not want to see their profits decrease in favour of renewable energy.

      If you believe coal salesmen when they tell you coal is clean energy, then I have a bridge to sell you.
  • Hybrid bubs? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Beer_Smurf ( 700116 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:07PM (#18929141) Homepage
    Maybe there needs to be a combo bulb/fixture that uses LEDs to fill in during the warm up of the compact fluorescent?
  • by DMCBOSTON ( 714393 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:08PM (#18929169)
    She might be a nut. Apparently "She has talked with representatives from the CDC and DEP and spent roughly two to three hours a day over the past several weeks, talking on the phone and in person and contacting local papers to get the word out on what she believes are dangerous light bulbs." She was told they weren't a problem: "Officials have said that Bridges has little to worry about and she could easily clean up the bulbs by hand. State Toxicologist Andrew Smith said it would be unlikely that a person could contract mercury poisoning from the levels of mercury found in Bridges' daughter's room." The Ellsworth American article: m_content&task=view&id=7446&%20Itemid=31/ [] Maybe a little common sense is in order here?
  • by Ibag ( 101144 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:09PM (#18929177)
    As I read the article, something seemed amiss (other than the fact that I was reading the article). And then, as I reached the end, I knew why.

    Steven Milloy publishes and He is a junk-science expert and advocate of free enterprise, and an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

    Suddenly, it made sense why CFLs were equated with thermometers (which contain over 100 times the mercury, and for which safer, equivalent replacements exist), why the environmental impact of the mercury was not weighed against the impact of the energy gains, why the author would question why we want mercury in our bulbs but not in our fish, or why environmentalist was used as a pejorative.

    Remember, if you're reading something that sounds mildly absurd, the author might have an agenda. That doesn't mean that he can't make valid points, but it helps you to know how much skepticism to have.
  • Seen it. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:22PM (#18929451)
    Ive seen this circulating the blog already, and did a little investigating. Turns out some aspects of this story are less then credible.

    Lets start with the source of the article, one Steven Milloy - you can see his name is on that particular version of it, as well as some others. A quick background check, placing his name into google, reveals that Steven Milloy is a quite enthusiastic campagigner against climate-change reducing initiatives - ironicly, he labels it 'junk science' - as well as opposed to environmental concerns in general. His wikipedia page goes into more detail. He also runs [] - just your plain old astroturf site, that will label any part of science junk for a suitable fee. And yes, I checked its the same Stephen Milloy. The attribution at the end of the article confirms it.

    I could spend a lot of time going into Milloy's record as a producer of scientific articles ranging from dubious to outright false, but lets not get distracted into the ad-homs here. Instead, how about a look at the criticism of the CFL scare from - as the site points out, the level of mercury in a CFL is tiny - 5mg. Not to mention that CFL is just a new packageing for an old technology - the older tube-lights run on exactly the same princible and have been in use for a long time now. Have there been any major safety concerns about those? They contain much more mercury than a CFL, due simply to their larger volume. Thermometers contain a whole lot more than either - and who finds that they need to call in the hazmat squad if they break a thermometer?

    The $2000 cleanup incident seems to be just an overreaction - an extreme case of 'better safe than sorry.' Or, this being america, perhaps 'better safe than liable.'
  • by WallyHartshorn ( 64268 ) <`wally.hartshorn' `at' `'> on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:26PM (#18929569) Homepage
    Here are a couple of relevant bits from publication Information on Proper Disposal of Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs [] (PDF):

    Is it true that CFLs contain mercury? Why and how much?

    CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing - an average of 5 milligrams (roughly equivalent to the tip of a ball-point pen). Mercury is an essential, irreplaceable element in CFLs and is what allows the bulb to be an efficient light source. By comparison, older home thermometers contain 500 milligrams of mercury and many manual thermostats contain up to 3000 milligrams. It would take between 100 and 600 CFLs to equal those amounts.


    What should I do if a CFL breaks?

    Because there is such a small amount of mercury in CFLs, your greatest risk if a bulb breaks is getting cut from glass shards. Research indicates that there is no immediate health risk to you or your family should a bulb break and it's cleaned up properly. You can minimize any risks by following these proper clean-up and disposal guidelines:

    • Sweep up--don't vacuum--all of the glass fragments and fine particles.
    • Place broken pieces in a sealed plastic bag and wipe the area with a damp paper towel to pick up any stray shards of glass or fine particles. Put the used towel in the plastic bag as well.
    • If weather permits, open windows to allow the room to ventilate.
  • by boyfaceddog ( 788041 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:35PM (#18929729) Journal
    The National Incandescent Light Board - Helping to keep America in the dark since the invention of the light bulb.

    Of course, it goes without saying that ALL flourescent lights contain mercury.

    Bad Flourescent lights! Bad! Bad!

    It also goes without saying that burning fosil fuels, especially coal, realease mercury into the atmosphere, and the more energy a light bulb uses, the more mercury it releases.

    Bad incandescent lights! Bad! Bad!

    Welcome to the conundrum of modern technology.

    "We've got like two types of pollution, bad and worse. Which one you want?"
  • Fifty-fifty. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by goodmanj ( 234846 ) on Monday April 30, 2007 @01:46PM (#18929933)
    I like compact fluorescents, but I do notice their color, flicker, and startup time, even on the expensive ones. (Often, the flicker and startup time is great at first, but gets worse over time.) I use CFs in ceiling fixtures which usually have 2 bulbs inside: I put one incandescent and one fluorescent in each. I save half the power, and the incandescent fills in the flicker and startup time very nicely. Plus, having one wasteful incandescent in there encourages me to turn the lights off when I'm not using them.

Each honest calling, each walk of life, has its own elite, its own aristocracy based on excellence of performance. -- James Bryant Conant