Do I need a HAZMAT suit to change one of the new CFL light bulbs?

If you’re one of those people who are freaking out about the radiation from the Japanese nuclear reactor, you’ve got a much bigger problem right here at home. It turns out that the highly touted Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL) bulb poses a rather significant health hazard during breakage or disposal.

Compact Fluorescent Lamp

Compact Fluorescent Lamp

The Environmental Protection Agency and the “Green” movement, are aggressively promoting the sale of CFL bulbs as a way to save energy and fight global warming. They want Americans to buy many millions of them over the coming years. The only problem is that the CFL bulbs contain a small amount of Mercury, a neurotoxin, and the federal and local governments haven’t come up with effective ways to get Americans to safely recycle them.

Despite the potential dangers, The U.S. is already in the process of phasing out manufacture of the incandescent bulb as mandated by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.  On January 1st, 2011, California began phasing out the legal sale and purchase of 100-watt incandescent light bulbs. In September of this year, GE closed their last US light bulb manufacturing plant. The European Union will stop all production of incandescent bulbs by 2012.

While this may be a good thing for the conservationists it could be a very bad thing for your health.  Sort of like nuclear power (disposal and malfunctions).

“The problem with the bulbs is that they’ll break before they get to the landfill. They’ll break in containers, or they’ll break in a dumpster or they’ll break in the trucks. Workers may be exposed to very high levels of mercury when that happens,” says John Skinner, in a recent article on the NPR website.  Skinner is the executive director of the Solid Waste Association of North America, the trade group for the people who handle trash and recycling. Skinner says when bulbs break near homes, they can contaminate the soil.

Where things really get bad is on the lifestyle side. We’ve all gotten very used to the romantic, sensual, warm lighting from our childhood. Well you can forget about that and get used to the harsh cold reality and light quality of the new CFL’s

If you like to really light up your house and make it look warm and festive, the ambiance will now resemble the interior of a Wal-Mart.

If you’re one of those people who worry about bad hair days, wait until you start having bad light days. The cold harsh lighting cast by these CFL’s will age you and produce strange shadows across your face.  You might want to consider carrying a spare 100-watt incandescent bulb if you’re planning on meeting and making a positive impression with a member of the opposite sex.

Bad Hair Day

Bad Hair and Make-up Day

Worst of all, I’m told it is almost impossible to put on make-up under fluorescent lighting. That probably explains some of the women I’ve seen who seem to have mascara and eyeliner extending over their ears with various textures of skin color across their faces.

The scariest however, is if you happen to drop or break one of these bulbs in your home. The clean up and disposal as recommended by the EPA, in its advisory for dealing with broken CFL’s,  is akin to handling a minor HAZMAT incident. Just a few of the instructions from this multiple page list are:

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 (HVAC) system if you have one

Collect materials you will need to clean up the broken bulb:  1. Stiff paper or cardboard , 2. Sticky tape (e.g., duct tape), 3. Damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes (for hard surfaces), 4. Glass jar with a metal lid (such as a canning jar) or a sealable plastic bag(s)

There have been millions of these bulbs already sold and this is just the beginning.  So if you’re worried about the potential for radiation from Japan appearing in the U.S.  it might wiser to consider mercury contamination which is a real problem here and now.

But for those of us who make lemonade out of lemons the news is not all bad. The futures markets in incandescent light bulbs are likely to start skyrocketing. People are hoarding these bulbs in all sizes and shapes because they know they will command a premium on E-Bay once all manufacturing is cut off. And if they can’t sell them, they can still enjoy good old “warm lighting” in the privacy of their homes out of sight of the EPA police. Worst case, incandescent bulbs will most likely always be manufactured in China.

And that’s the way it is here: “a little left or right”


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1 Response to "Do I need a HAZMAT suit to change one of the new CFL light bulbs?"

  • Mike Jones says: