• Text smaller
  • Text bigger

In what critics call a classic case of the government working at cross purposes, Washington is forcing residents across the country to install mercury lighting inside their homes while phasing out mercury lighting outside homes to protect the environment.

Yes, you read that right.

In 2005, Congress passed a law banning mercury vapor streetlights – two years before it banned incandescent light bulbs in favor of mercury vapor compact florescent bulbs.

Under the Energy Policy Act, signed by President Bush in August 2005, manufacturers cannot make or import ballasts for mercury vapor lights after Jan. 1, 2008. According to the act, mercury vapor security lights are being phased out to “protect the environment” and to “promote energy efficiency” in lighting.

Mike Huckabee spells out 12 essential truths about government every open-minded American should agree upon in “Simple Government,” available at WND’s Superstore

Utility companies across the country have been replacing mercury vapor street lamps with high-pressure sodium fixtures or metal halide fixtures, which are twice as efficient as mercury vapor and possibly safer. The EPA classifies mercury as a hazardous material.

Yet the federal government is pushing consumers to replace traditional incandescent bulbs used in their homes with compact fluorescents containing toxic mercury vapor.

A former Energy Department official says there’s a regulatory “disconnect” regarding mercury lighting.

“We’re removing mercury from outside the home while adding it inside,” he said. “It makes no sense.”

In 2007 – two years after enacting the ban on outdoor mercury lighting – Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act, also signed by Bush. It mandated the use of compact florescent lighting in U.S. homes by making incandescent bulbs a controlled substance and outlawing the 100-watt bulb by 2012, and all other wattages by 2014.

Sponsors of the law argue that it will save energy. According to the Energy Department, however, lighting accounts for only 11.6 percent of the electricity costs in the average American home. So savings will be minor. And critics point out that CFLs are more expensive than traditional bulbs.

California has already banned stores from restocking 100-watt incandescent bulbs. CFL shipments nationwide reached 400 million last year, according to Megan McKoy-Noe of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Right now CFLs account for roughly 30 percent of the lighting market.

The EPA warns that the amount of mercury in one bulb is enough to contaminate up to 6,000 gallons of water beyond safe drinking levels. The agency provides elaborate instructions on its website for cleaning up broken CFL bulbs on hard surfaces and carpets. It also recommends disposing of unbroken old CFL bulbs at special recycling centers.

Rep. Michelle Bachmann, a Republican running for the White House, has introduced a bill demanding that government first guarantee “there are no public health risks from the mercury in replacement bulbs at home or in any public building.”

House Republicans earlier this month failed to overturn the ban on incandescent bulbs, but passed a bill that would bar the Energy Department from spending money next year to enforce the ban.

Texas recently enacted legislation seeking to get around the federal law by declaring that incandescent bulbs – if made and sold in Texas – do not involve interstate commerce and, therefore, are not subject to federal regulation.

EPA has published detailed recommendations for “what to do if a CFL bulb breaks in your home.”

The agency recommends numerous steps to “reduce exposure to mercury vapor from a broken bulb,” including:

Before Cleanup:

  • Have people and pets leave the room, and avoid the breakage area on the way out.

  • Open a window or door to the outdoors and leave the room for 5-10 minutes.
  • Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning (H&AC) system, if you have one.
  • Collect materials you will need to clean up the broken bulb:
  • Stiff paper or cardboard.
  • Sticky tape (e.g., duct tape).
  • Damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes (for hard surfaces).
  • Glass jar with a metal lid (such as a canning jar) or a sealable plastic bag(s).

Cleanup Steps for Hard Surfaces:

  • Carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place debris and paper/cardboard in a glass jar with a metal lid. If a glass jar is not available, use a sealable plastic bag.

    (NOTE: Since a plastic bag will not prevent the mercury vapor from escaping, remove the plastic bag(s) from the home after cleanup.)

  • Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder. Place the used tape in the glass jar or plastic bag.
  • Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place the towels in the glass jar or plastic bag.
  • Vacuuming of hard surfaces during cleanup is not recommended unless broken glass remains after all other cleanup steps have been taken.

    [NOTE: It is possible that vacuuming could spread mercury-containing powder or mercury vapor, although available information on this problem is limited.]

If vacuuming is needed to ensure removal of all broken glass, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Keep a window or door to the outdoors open;

  • Vacuum the area where the bulb was broken using the vacuum hose, if available; and
  • Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister) and seal the bag/vacuum debris, and any materials used to clean the vacuum, in a plastic bag.
  • Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials, including vacuum cleaner bags, outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly.
  • Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your area. Some states and communities require fluorescent bulbs (broken or unbroken) be taken to a local recycling center.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing bulb debris and cleanup materials.
  • Continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the H&AC system shut off, as practical, for several hours.

Cleanup Steps for Carpeting or Rugs:

  • Carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place debris and paper/cardboard in a glass jar with a metal lid. If a glass jar is not available, use a sealable plastic bag.

    (NOTE: Since a plastic bag will not prevent the mercury vapor from escaping, remove the plastic bag(s) from the home after cleanup.)

  • Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder. Place the used tape in the glass jar or plastic bag.
  • Vacuuming of carpeting or rugs during cleanup is not recommended unless broken glass remains after all other cleanup steps have been taken.

    [NOTE: It is possible that vacuuming could spread mercury-containing powder or mercury vapor, although available information on this problem is limited.]

If vacuuming is needed to ensure removal of all broken glass, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Keep a window or door to the outdoors open;

  • Vacuum the area where the bulb was broken using the vacuum hose, if available, and
  • Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister) and seal the bag/vacuum debris, and any materials used to clean the vacuum, in a plastic bag.
  • Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials, including vacuum cleaner bags, outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly.
  • Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your area. Some states and communities require fluorescent bulbs (broken or unbroken) be taken to a local recycling center.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing bulb debris and cleanup materials.
  • Continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the H&AC system shut off, as practical, for several hours.

Future Cleaning of Carpeting or Rugs: Air Out the Room During and After Vacuuming:

  • The next several times you vacuum the rug or carpet, shut off the H&AC system if you have one, close the doors to other rooms, and open a window or door to the outside before vacuuming. Change the vacuum bag after each use in this area.

  • After vacuuming is completed, keep the H&AC system shut off and the window or door to the outside open, as practical, for several hours.

Actions You Can Take to Prevent Broken Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs:

  • Fluorescent bulbs are made of glass and can break if dropped or roughly handled. To avoid breaking a bulb, follow these general practices:

  • Always switch off and allow a working CFL bulb to cool before handling.
  • Always handle CFL bulbs carefully to avoid breakage.
  • If possible, screw/unscrew the CFL by holding the plastic or ceramic base, not the glass tubing.

    <

  • Gently screw in the CFL until snug. Do not over-tighten.
  • Never forcefully twist the glass tubing.
  • Consider not using CFLs in lamps that can be easily knocked over, in unprotected light fixtures, or in lamps that are incompatible with the spiral or folded shape of many CFLs.
  • Do not use CFL bulbs in locations where they can easily be broken, such as play spaces.
  • Use CFL bulbs that have a glass or plastic cover over the spiral or folded glass tube, if available. These types of bulbs look more like incandescent bulbs and may be more durable if dropped.
  • Consider using a drop cloth (e.g., plastic sheet or beach towel) when changing a fluorescent light bulb in case a breakage should occur.
  • The drop cloth will help prevent mercury contamination of nearby surfaces and can be bundled with the bulb debris for disposal.

  • Text smaller
  • Text bigger
Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.