Mercury content in compact fluorescent light bulbs causes concern | DrumhellerMail
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Last updateFri, 14 Jun 2024 6pm

Mercury content in compact fluorescent light bulbs causes concern

    While Canadians won’t have to change out their standard incandescent light bulb with the modern compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL) come January 1, there are many questioning if the plan does more harm than good.
    There were plans to implement the Energy Efficiency Regulation come 2012, but it has been amended to 2014. This would see the phase-out of general service light bulbs from 40 watts to 100 watts to be replaced with more efficient lighting units.
    The most common high efficiency bulbs on the market right now are the CFL bulbs. Typical 13-15 watt CFL bulbs can produce the lighting equivalent of a common 60-watt bulb. While there is great potential for energy savings, the bulbs contain mercury. This has become a disposal issue and many believe a threat to health.
    “I am not very happy with the direction of the government is going. By 2014 they will no longer allow the importation of or the manufacturing (of incandescent bulbs), which means we will be forced to go to CFL bulbs,” said Tammi Nygaard, operations manager for the Drumheller and District Solid Waste Association. “CFLs in my opinion are literally hazardous. There is mercury and mercury vapor in them, more than a standard fluorescent tube. They are extremely toxic, and if they break, there is a big description of how you are supposed to deal with them.”
    According to the Alberta Environment website, while CFL bulbs contain mercury and pose disposal issues, they actually reduce the amount of mercury in the environment.
    “…the highest source of mercury entering the atmosphere occurs through the burning of fossil fuels for energy. Incandescent bulbs consume significantly more energy than fluorescent bulbs, so they result in greater mercury emissions over the life cycle of the bulbs. By using fluorescent bulbs, you are reducing both your energy use and your overall mercury emissions,” it said.
    While the bulbs do not pose a risk when they are intact, if they break, Natural Resources Canada has a cleanup procedure, which includes opening a window to ventilate;  using rubber gloves, then remove as much debris with stiff paper or cardboard and place it in a plastic bag. If the bulb breaks on a hard surface, wipe the area with a damp paper towel. If the bulb breaks on a carpeted area, sticky tape such as duct tape can remove broken glass. 
    While some websites say not to vacuum the area, Natural Resources Canada says to vacuum only if necessary, but you need to dispose of the vacuum bag in a plastic bag. If the vacuum does not have a bag, it is recommended to wipe the interior of the vacuum.
    Dispose of the debris the same way you would dispose of the bulb.
    “The average person does not know they cannot put these in the garbage,” said Nygaard. 
    Nygaard said the Drumheller and District Solid Waste Association takes the CFL bulbs free of charge as a part of their toxic waste round up. Residents can bring them to the landfill and inform the gatehouse they wish to dispose of them.
    The CFL bulbs are taken and safely disposed of by DBS Environmental in Lethbridge.
    “We want to make sure they are handled properly and disposed of properly,” she said.
    Nygaard believes the potential energy saving of the bulbs is not worth the risk.
    “I am really disappointed the government, under the guise of reducing our carbon footprint and saving energy, is making these mandatory,” she said. “I think the public should have a choice, we are intelligent and can make our own decisions for what is best for our families.”
    She recommends that people do the research, and if they are concerned,  voice their concerns to their MP and MLAs.
    Her simple answer to those who want to reduce their carbon footprints: turn off the lights when not in use.


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