Monday, November 9, 2009

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs... Saving The Environment or Endangering Everything?

I found this interesting. As much as I have heard about the funny looking light bulbs known as compact fluorescent bulbs, I really don't give a shit about the things the environmentalists tell me I should care about.


My theory is that they're trying to feed me a steaming pile anyhow (idea cemented by presence of poster boy Al Gore) so I simply shut them out when they say I should do something. In the cases where I don't shut them out, I listen only so that I can then turn and do the exact opposite of what they tell me. Take for example, the curious case of the wonderful compact fluorescent light bulb vs. the incandescent bulb. This is where it really gets good.

They environmental types (those who stand to make money off "environmentally friendly" crap) such as, the Environmental Protection Agency and some large business, including Wal-Mart and Ikea, are aggressively promoting the sale of compact fluorescent light bulbs. They like to tell us that it's a way to save energy and fight global warming.

That's a nice thought... combating global warming and such. Making the planet better in the future for your children and your children's children and all that happy horseshit. Here's another nice thought. Compact fluorescent light bulbs contain Mercury. You know, Mercury, it's a super-fun member of a material hazard class called "Neurotoxin." Can you say "Neurotoxin" kids?

Wait, what about Mercury! Alright, no problem, we'll come back to "Neurotoxin."

Mercury is a naturally occurring metal that has several forms. The metallic mercury is a shiny, silver-white, odorless liquid that is also called quicksilver. When heated, it becomes a colorless, odorless gas.

Certain forms of mercury can build up in the tissues of animals all the way up the food chain to man. Mercury can build up in the body and accumulate, having long lasting health effects.

How can mercury affect my health?

Well, to begin with, the nervous system is very sensitive to all forms of mercury. Exposures to high levels of metallic, inorganic, or organic mercury can permanently damage the brain, the kidneys, or a developing fetus. The effects of mercury on brain functioning may result in irritability, shyness, tremors, changes in vision or hearing, and memory problems.

Excess mercury has been linked to nervous system, kidney, and liver damage, and impaired childhood development. The nervous system disorders that may occur with excess mercury include impaired vision, speech, hearing, and coordination. Another way to be exposed to mercury is to breathe in vapors in the air from spills of metallic mercury. You can breathe mercury contaminated air at the workplace or have skin contact with mercury while at work (dental, health services, chemical and other industries that use mercury). It is possible to breathe in mercury vapors in the air around spills, incinerators, and industries that burn mercury-containing fuels.

Short-term exposure to high levels of metallic mercury vapors may cause effects including lung damage, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, increases in blood pressure or heart rate, skin rashes, and eye irritation. Exposure to organic mercury is more dangerous for young children than for adults, because more of it passes into children’s brains where it interferes with normal development.

How likely is mercury to cause cancer?

There is inadequate human cancer data available for mercury but certain types have caused increases in several types of tumors in rats and mice. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that some forms of Mercury are possible human carcinogens.

Very young children are much more sensitive to mercury and all of its effects than are adults. Pregnant woman are advised to keep away from the room where liquid mercury has been used.

Now, back to this Neurotoxin thing. These are a whole lot of fun for the entire family. I bet you're wondering how much fun they might be aren't you? Never you fear, I shall tell you.

A neurotoxin is a toxic agent or substance that inhibits, damages or destroys the tissues of the nervous system, especially neurons, the conducting cells of your body's central nervous system.

Neurotoxic effects can include behavior changes, seizures, as well as wide range of effects, including death. Both acute and chronic (long and short-term) exposure to certain organic chemicals can cause a variety of health problems including narcosis, anesthesia, CNS (central nervous system) depression, respiratory arrest, unconsciousness, coma, and death.

Neurotoxins have the potential for long-lasting or permanent effects from exposure means you should avoid the use of neurotoxins whenever possible. Some of you may be familiar with this guy.


He is a "mad hatter." That's no coincidence. He's not a hat maker that was mad or a mad man who took to making hats. Or a hat maker that went mad while making hats but not because of said occupation. The mad hatter was a mad hatter because it was well known in the time of Lewis Carroll that hat makers usually, eventually, went mad as a result of exposure to chemicals required to make hats. One of those chemicals... Mercury!

Mercury solution was commonly used in the olden days in the felting
process for making hats. You can read more about the actual process here. You can also get a more thorough story on the Mad Hatter here, including the parts I'm leaving out. There is some additional info here as well.

Many hat makers with long-term exposure to Mercury ended up with Mercury poisoning. The Mercury attacks the nervous system, causing drooling, hair loss, uncontrollable muscle tremors, trembling, and twitching ("hatter's shakes" or "Danbury shakes"), a lurching gait, and difficulties in talking and thinking clearly. Stumbling about in a confused state with slurred speech, affected hatters were sometimes mistaken for drunks. In severe cases, they experienced hallucinations and other psychotic symptoms.

Venoms are also neurotoxins.



Anywho! the bulbs contain small amounts of mercury and there currently is not really any good way to dispose of them. These bulbs tend to accidentally break. They break in landfills, in containers, in dumpsters, in trucks, in homes. Everything they touch when they break is going to get contaminated. Carpet, clothing, linens, mattresses, workers, children (to whom it is especially dangerous), pets, yourself, soil, water, etc, etc.

Some states, cities and counties have even outlawed putting CFL bulbs in the trash. "Experts" allegedly agree that it's not easy for most people to recycle this type of bulb. Many cities that have curbside recycling won't take the bulbs. In case you aren't sure what this may mean, this would mean you would have to either make a special trip to a specialized disposal facility to dispose of your "environmentally friendly" bulb, or you would have to contract a specialized disposal company to come and collect your bulb for you. This will require manpower, fuel, and most importantly... additional carbon footprint added to the opposite end of where you removed it by using the bulb in the first place. Your typical incandescent light bulb can legally, and safely be disposed of in regular household trash without fear of pollution, contamination, or bodily harm to third persons such as the trash collector.

You will also find that in many cases, these environmentally conscious do-gooder wannabes will lose interest on the back end of their little save the world project and the bulbs will go in the trash. For example:

Pete Keller works for Eco Lights Northwest, the only company in Washington state that recycles fluorescent lamps. He says it is illegal to put the bulbs in the trash in some counties in Washington, but most people still throw them out.

"I think most people do want to recycle, but if it's not made easy, it doesn't happen," Keller says. "And they're small enough to fit in a trash can. So by nature, I think most people are not recyclers. So if it's small enough to fit in a trash can, that's where it ends up."

It's the American way... "If it ain't easy... fuck it."

Wendy Reed, who manages EPA's Energy Star program said "I share your frustration that there isn't a national infrastructure for the proper recycling of this product." So it would appear that the government has jumped behind and is pushing an idea like a retard in line at the amusement park and yet they really haven't fully looked into, developed, or even really considered the implications other than the immediate, outward appearance of environmental helpfulness. As long as everybody just follows along and doesn't think too much, we can all give ourselves a proud pat on the back every time we turn on a light.

Wendy says that even though fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, using them contributes less mercury to the environment than using regular incandescent bulbs. That's because they use less electricity and coal-fired power plants are the biggest source of mercury emissions in the air. To Wendy, I say, "but those plants are HIGHLY monitored by the government all of the time. They require permits, environmental and safety plans, disposal equipment and contracts, they have to account for every bit of their emissions and waste. The employees at the facility are trained to know about these things by law, and things are generally taken care of allowing for the odd exception.

On the other hand, average Joe Suburbanite and Welfare Cher are buying these bulbs for use in their homes by their mostly if not completely ignorant families, all over America. They're going to end up contaminated, they're going to contaminate the environment, and others, and they're going to cost you and I more money in the long run. We're going to be cleaning up that pollution later, we're going to be paying for that sickness later. Is this a good idea, really? I'm not buying it. I'm asking who's manufacturing these bulbs, who's coffers are the donations from said company going into?

Wendy then went on to say "The compact fluorescent light bulb is a product people can use to positively influence the environment to… prevent mercury emissions as well as greenhouse gas emissions. And it's something that we can do now — and it's extremely important that we do do it, the positive message is, if you recycle them, if you dispose of them properly, then they're doing a world of good."

If you want to calculate just how much good you're doing the world. An accurate estimate by my calculations would be that if you use all compact fluorescent bulbs for the majority of your life, we'll say from age 30 to age 80 assuming you die promptly, that's 50 years. In that fifty years, you will have done nearly as much good for the environment as you would have if you had chosen one day (any day in that 50 years) not to drive your car (assuming your car was up to California emissions standards and you didn't plan on driving far anyhow).

Wendy also said "EPA is actively engaged with trying to find a solution that works for these retailers around recycling the product, because it's really, really important." Then she went on to blame the stores for "not stepping up." As we all know, our government likes to lead by making examples of others at cost to those others instead of making it's own example. If they do start requiring the stores to do it, taxpayers will pay for it in either direct taxes, or higher prices to offset the huge cost of implementing expensive new procedures to recycle this crap. This saving the planet stuff appears to be very expensive for very little difference (if any), hmm... that's odd.

Lets hear from General Electric... they have been making compact fluorescents for circa 20 years. A company spokesperson admits that the little bit of mercury in each bulbs could become a real problem if sales balloon as expected.

"Given what we anticipate to be the significant increase in the use of these products, we are now beginning to look at, and shortly we'll be discussing with legislators, possibly a national solution here," says Earl Jones, a senior counsel for General Electric. What he didn't mention was that one way or another, it's going to cost you and I a buttload of money.

Did you know that CFL's are also not for use in track, recessed or dimmer fixtures? Yeah, it turns out that can cause "problems." Could you have guessed that the warnings on the packages of some of the new bulbs are in very small fine print and rather hard to read. They are also voluntary, yes that's right, the company can decide for itself whether warning you is worth their time.

Speaking of a difficult, costly, and unpleasant. What exactly should one do if suckered into buying these dumbass bulbs and then one breaks in your home? Well, the jury is still out on that one. Depending on the source there are slightly different levels of "how to" on this one and they range from inconvenience to disaster.

Consider this.

When installing a CFL bulb in a ceiling fixture of her 7-year-old daughter's bedroom Brandy Bridges dropped and broke it in shag carpet. Ms. Bridges knew about the danger of mercury but not what to do about it so she called Home Depot where she bought the bulbs to find out.

The store allegedly warned her not to vacuum the carpet and directed her to call the local poison control hotline. Poison control directed her to call the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Environmental Protection.

The latter sent over a specialist to test the air in her house for mercury. While the rest of the house was clear, the area of the accident was contaminated above the level considered safe. The specialist warned Bridges not to clean up the bulb and mercury powder by herself – recommending a local environmental cleanup firm.

That company estimated the cleanup cost at $2,000 and, no, her homeowners insurance does not cover the damage. Bridges has been forced to seal off her daughter's bedroom with plastic to avoid any dust blowing around. Not even the family pets are permitted in to the bedroom.

Other sources say that you should do various other things in the case of a toxic materials release... I mean in case of a CFL bulb break...

Before Clean-up, evacuate people and pets and Air Out the Room for at least 15 minutes

Put on rubber, nitrile or latex gloves.

Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one.

Clean-Up Steps for Hard Surfaces

Carefully scoop up glass pieces and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.

Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.

Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place towels in the glass jar or plastic bag.

Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.

Clean-up Steps for Carpeting or Rug

Carefully pick up glass fragments and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.

Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.

If vacuuming is needed after all visible materials are removed, vacuum the area where the bulb was broken.

Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister), and put the bag or vacuum debris in a sealed plastic bag.

Clean-up Steps for Clothing, Bedding and Other Soft Materials

If clothing or bedding materials come in direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powder from inside the bulb they should be thrown away.

Disposal of Clean-up Materials (this part is particularly interesting)

Place all clean-up materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area for the next normal trash pickup immediately.

Wash your hands after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing clean-up materials.

Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your specific area. Some states do not allow such trash disposal. Instead, they require that broken and unbroken mercury-containing bulbs be taken to a local recycling center. (Now you will want to realize that your state falls into this category and go outside and get your previously disposed of hazardous materials back out of the trash)

Future Cleaning of Carpeting or Rug:

The next several times you vacuum, shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system and open a window before vacuuming.

Keep the central heating/air conditioning system shut off and the window open for at least 15 minutes after vacuuming is completed.

You may also use powdered sulfur to absorb the beads that are too small to see. The sulfur may change color and make the mercury easier to see, and it binds the mercury so that it can be easily removed. Note: Powdered sulfur may also stain fabrics a dark color. The powdered sulfur is also toxic and should not be breathed in.

Now, according to the EPA, here are some things that you should never do with a Mercury Spill Include:

Never use a vacuum cleaner to clean up mercury because it will put mercury into the air and increase exposure.

Never use a broom to clean up mercury. It will break the mercury into smaller droplets and spread them.

Never pour mercury down a drain. It may lodge in the plumbing and cause problems or cause pollution of the septic tank or sewage treatment plant.

Never wash clothing or other items that have come in direct contact with mercury in a washing machine, because mercury may contaminate the machine and/or pollute sewage. Clothing that has come into direct contact with mercury should be discarded.

Isn't This Fun!?

They might actually make it illegal soon to use anything but these bulbs. It all started in Cuba, moved to Venezuela, then Australia, Canada and the European Union. Now individual states in the U.S., including California, Connecticut, North Carolina and Rhode Island, are all in the process of legislating an end to Edison's greatest invention. Even local towns and cities are getting into the act of telling you that your safety isn't as important as using their pet project light bulb. By the time you develop cancer from the bulbs, the globe will have cooled again (like it does every couple of decades) and they'll be able to exclaim a triumphant victory.


1 comment:

Capt. Schmoe said...

Thanks for taking this on. I believe that CFLs in their present form will someday be viewed as one of the largest consumer frauds thrust upon us.

The environmental hazards associated with disposal, the high purchase cost, the useful life being nowhere as long as advertised, the poor lighting quality and the increased use of resources to manufacture all stack up like a fresh pile of bull manure.

If society had a clue of the total cost of some these BS environmental regulations, there would be a revolt.