NEW YORK – A recent United Nations crackdown on mercury raises concerns about the safety of compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs, that Congress has mandated to replace incandescent bulbs by 2014.
Although typically not reported in the mainstream media, Health Canada and the United Kingdom’s Health Protection Agency have also issued concerns that the widespread use of CFLs may result in serious hazards to human health.
As WND reported, the presence of small amounts of highly toxic mercury in CFLs poses problems for consumers when breakage occurs.
The potential environmental hazard created by the mass introduction of billions of CFLs with few disposal sites and a public unfamiliar with the risks is great.
At a meeting of 140 nations in Nairobi, Kenya, in February, environmental ministers of the U.N. Environmental Program Council decided to launch negotiations on an international mercury treaty to implement an eight-point program that included reducing mercury in products such as thermometers and high-intensity discharge lamps.
The U.N. press release from the February meeting in Kenya neglected to discuss specifically the issue of CFLs.
The EPA recommendations for how to handle the breakage and clean-up of CFLs in the home reflect the agency is aware of the safety hazard represented by mercury in CFLs.
Health Canada expects to release this summer the results of additional testing the Canadian government is doing to measure potentially harmful ultraviolet radiation and electromagnetic-field exposure levels emitted by CFLs.
The United Kingdom’s Health Protection Agency after examining CFL radiation and electromagnetic-field exposure hazards has recommended that CFLs not be used in areas where people spend more than an hour a day within one foot of a bare light fixture.
The U.K. Health Protection Agency warned that very close exposure to CFLs at distances less than one inch would produce ultra-violet ray skin exposure risks equivalent to being outside in direct sunlight and would require sun screen protection.
The U.K. Protection Agency also cautioned that exposure to ultra-violet rays “can cause particular problems for people suffering from some medical conditions, including Lupus.”
In the case of CFL breakages in home, the EPA calls for people and pets to leave the room before beginning the clean up, followed by opening a window and leaving the room for 15 minutes or more.
The EPA recommends carefully scooping up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and placing them in a glass jar with a metal lid, such as a canning jar, or in a sealed plastic bag.
The EPA also cautions that some states do not allow trash disposal of CFLs, requiring instead that broken and unbroken bulbs with mercury be taken to a state-authorized recycling center.
The Environmental Protection Agency did not respond to several e-mail and telephone requests by WND to comment on this story.
CFLs typically contain about 4 to 5 milligrams of mercury.
CFLs do not outlast incandescent light bulbs in situations in which inadequate air flow around the bulb allows operating temperatures to rise from about 105 degrees Fahrenheit to about 160 degrees Fahrenheit, or where cheap CFLs are used or where CFLs are placed in lights that receive heavy duty use.
Still, the EPA promotes that CFLs use two-thirds less energy than incandescent bulbs and can save $20 to $30 in energy costs over the life of the bulb.
Snopes.com promotes the EPA claim that the resultant energy savings from replacing just one standard incandescent light bulb with a CFL would eliminate greenhouse gases equal to the emissions of 800,000 cars.
The claim, though often repeated by mainstream news sources, presumes greenhouse gases released by humans cause global warming or other climate changes adverse to humans, although WND has reported reputable scientists dispute that.