Skip to comments.The CFL mercury nightmare [break a compact fluorescent, face $2000 in cleanup costs]
Posted on 04/29/2007 1:34:30 PM PDT by John Jorsett
How much money does it take to screw in a compact fluorescent light bulb? About US$4.28 for the bulb and labour -- 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.
Sound crazy? Perhaps no more than the stampede to ban the incandescent light bulb in favour of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs).
According to an April 12 article in The Ellsworth American, 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 that 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.
The DEP sent a specialist to Bridges' house to test for mercury contamination. The specialist found mercury levels in the bedroom in excess of six times the state's "safe" level for mercury contamination of 300 billionths of a gram per cubic meter. The DEP specialist recommended that Bridges call an environmental cleanup firm, which reportedly gave her a "low-ball" estimate of US$2,000 to clean up the room. The room then was sealed off with plastic and Bridges began "gathering finances" to pay for the US$2,000 cleaning. Reportedly, her insurance company wouldn't cover the cleanup 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 US$180 annually in energy costs -- and assuming that 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.
The potentially hazardous CFL is being pushed by companies such as Wal-Mart, which wants to sell 100 million CFLs at five times the cost of incandescent bulbs during 2007, and, surprisingly, environmentalists.
It's quite odd that environmentalists have embraced the CFL, which cannot now and will not in the foreseeable future be made without mercury. Given that there are about five billion light bulb sockets in North American households, we're looking at the possibility of creating billions of hazardous waste sites such as the Bridges' bedroom.
Usually, environmentalists want hazardous materials out of, not in, our homes. These are the same people who go berserk at the thought of mercury being emitted from power plants and the presence of mercury in seafood. Environmentalists have whipped up so much fear of mercury among the public that many local governments have even launched mercury thermometer exchange programs.
As the activist group Environmental Defense urges us to buy CFLs, it defines mercury on a separate part of its Web site as a "highly toxic heavy metal that can cause brain damage and learning disabilities in fetuses and children" and as "one of the most poisonous forms of pollution."
Greenpeace also recommends CFLs while simultaneously bemoaning contamination caused by a mercury-thermometer factory in India. But where are mercury-containing CFLs made? Not in the United States, under strict environmental regulation. CFLs are made in India and China, where environmental standards are virtually non-existent.
And let's not forget about the regulatory nightmare in the U.S. known as the Superfund law, the EPA regulatory program best known for requiring expensive but often needless cleanup of toxic waste sites, along with endless litigation over such cleanups.
We'll eventually be disposing billions and billions of CFL mercury bombs. Much of the mercury from discarded and/or broken CFLs is bound to make its way into the environment and give rise to Superfund liability, which in the past has needlessly disrupted many lives, cost tens of billions of dollars and sent many businesses into bankruptcy.
As each CFL contains five milligrams of mercury, at the Maine "safety" standard of 300 nanograms per cubic meter, it would take 16,667 cubic meters of soil to "safely" contain all the mercury in a single CFL. While CFL vendors and environmentalists tout the energy cost savings of CFLs, they conveniently omit the personal and societal costs of CFL disposal.
Not only are CFLs much more expensive than incandescent bulbs and emit light that many regard as inferior to incandescent bulbs, they pose a nightmare if they break and require special disposal procedures. Yet governments (egged on by environmentalists and the Wal-Marts of the world) are imposing on us such higher costs, denial of lighting choice, disposal hassles and breakage risks in the name of saving a few dollars every year on the electric bill? - Steven Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and CSRWatch.com. He is a junk-science expert and advocate of free enterprise, and an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Looks like if you want to shut down a public building for a while, all you have to do is ‘accidently’ break one of their CFL bulbs. The easy alternative to anthrax.
I like them. Sweep, trash, and forget.
Seems fairly obvious that you shouldn’t call DEP when you break one.
Interestingly, there is no statement that she was required to clean it up like a hazardous waste site, only that it was recommended.
Hmmm...small, lightweight Mercury grenades.
I don't think she had a legal alternative. She couldn't safely transport it in broken form to an authorized disposal site (and I doubt that they'd take it when it was broken anyway), so cleanup or sealing off the room forever was about all she could do.
Five times the cost of environmentalists?
Sweep it up, insert in plastic bag, then into trash container?
Who’s to know?
You wanna bet that’s not how 99%+ of such spills are handled right now?
BTW, most mercury compounds are not wildly toxic.
Perhaps someone on this site knows which compounds are used in these lights.
I suspect that flushing $2,000 would make most of us sicker than would the mercury level in Ms. Bridges bedroom.
Here are the EPA’s recommendations for cleanup:
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.
Dumb envirowackos are poisening, no, make that raping, raping Mother Earth with their Pries cars and energy saving light bulbs.
A CFL typically contains 4 mg of mercury versus 3000 for old-style thermostats and 500 for a mercury thermometer.
As I suspected, the author is attempting to scare people.
Here is a major issue:
Fluorescent lighting — Anyone who has anytype of seizures and the light flickers even the slightest without outright seeing it will bring on seizures.
This is also one of the tests Neurologists put you through, flicking lights to check for seizures.
very high fool/money ratio in that story...
The volatile metallic poisonous kind.
Just gently clean the glass up, sprinkle with fine sulfur powder, and vacuum it up in a week or two. Or just vacuum it up straight away.
CFL’s run at an internally generated 300 cycles, not the “flicker 60” you’re used to.
CFLs make sense for non-dimmed fixtures that are
on for extended periods. We use them in most of
But rabid EDS victims (Edison Derangement Syndrome)
need to await mass market LED lamps.
> Or just vacuum it up straight away.
At least wear a respirator,
and open the windows.
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