22 April 2008

CFLs: Stop! The! Madness!

A Fresh Squeeze, 2006 Oct 23:
Compact Your Energy Bill: Compact Fluorescent Lighting
"As you may have learned trying to adjust your bedside lamp, light bulbs produce a lot of heat. But did you know that 90% of the energy consumed by light bulbs turns into heat not light?

"Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are more energy efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs and last up to 8 times longer. By saving energy, CFLs also lower energy bills and reduce green house gas emissions. Replacing just 4 traditional bulbs with CFLs will prevent 5,000 lbs in carbon dioxide emissions and use $100 less electricity over their lifetime..."

A Fresh Squeeze, 2008 Apr 22:
The Alternatives to CFL's: Light Emitting Diodes
"Inefficient incandescent bulbs will be phased off U.S. store shelves starting in 2012. And many people have already started replacing these bulbs, which burn eight times the electricity (in the form of wasted heat), with more efficient alternatives like compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

"But CFLs have their own problem: the mercury used to light them is a potent neurotoxin. While the bulbs are difficult to break, even a small mercury spill at home requires expensive remediation. Because there are few facilities equipped to safely recycle CFLs, many are thrown in the trash, where the can contribute to toxic leakage from landfills.

"LEDs may be the ultimate solution..."

No wonder few people take environmentalism seriously. What next? LEDs contain trace amounts of toxic chemicals that cause cancer? What the heck doesn't these days?

I hate to rain on the Earth Day parade (really, I do), but I swear, some people are like eco-hipsters. As soon as some eco-trendy idea goes eco-mainstream, they complain to high heaven that it isn't eco-friendly or eco-cool anymore. CFLs contain mercury! Gas-electric hybrid cars cause people to drive more! Organic produce isn't local enough! Why isn't your bicycle made of bamboo?

Does anyone remember where that DOE (or was it the EPA?) fact sheet is on what to do for a broken CFL? I do remember that the instructions were similar (if not exactly the same) as for a broken mercury thermometer, basically don't freak out, be careful of the broken glass, and open all the windows. And aren't those things supposed to last millions and millions of hours anyway? I really doubt a trip to the proper disposal facility is going to be that much of a nuisance if it's a pentennial event.

Last year Dean compared the amount of mercury in a CFL to that released by a coal-burning generator to power an incandescent bulb (guess which is larger):
Mercury in compact fluorescents
He also wrote something like a CFL buyer's/user's guide back in winter:
Compact fluorescents
Update: CF Torchiere replacement [Thanks!]


At 22 April, 2008 10:15, Blogger Eric Allix Rogers said...

My family has been using CFLs in over half of their light fixtures since they first became available in the mid-1990s or so. And I've been using them extensively (about 3/4 of my light fixtures) since my first apartment, several years ago. In all that time, with all those bulbs, never a single broken one. Not only that, none of mine have broken OR burned out yet, despite the fact that some of them have now moved with me through three or four different apartments.

At 22 April, 2008 12:25, Blogger Dean W. Armstrong said...

Some LEDs are a semiconductor made with arsenic, but the most common white LEDs are gallium nitride. However, let the freakout begin when freak-outers realize the LED is made with epoxy resin filled with Bisphenol A! Freak out!

If the broken CFL has been used, it's likely all the mercury is gaseous or contained in the phosphor. So the first thing is to open the windows and ventilate out the vapor and leave the room for a bit. Then just wipe up the broken bits without using a vacuum. For a new CFL, the mercury is either in an amalgam (on a good design) or in liquid form; I would be slightly more cautious about the cleanup for those. But both of these are 5mg at most of mercury; while still being cautious, the thermostats and thermometers of old have much much more mercury in them.

Thanks for the reminder, I have a long delayed post about my halogen torchiere replacements.

At 22 April, 2008 12:32, Blogger Jennifer said...

"Thanks for the reminder, I have a long delayed post about my halogen torchiere replacements."

Yes, and I've been waiting. I'm expecting mine to catch fire any minute now. (Okay, not literally because I did turn it off before I went to work, but you know what I mean.)

At 23 April, 2008 15:19, Blogger Johnny 5 said...

As someone who sells light bulbs for a living, I am less enthusiastic than most about compact fluorescent bulbs. This is due to the fact that the ones currently available contain significant amounts of mercury. If one of these bulbs should break inside of a person’s home, it could cause a challenging disposal situation. It is my belief that the technology should progress to a point at which the mercury levels are low or nonexistent before people changeover their entire homes. Another consideration is that as these bulbs burn out, they will most likely be thrown away as though they are normal rubbish and landfills will have incredibly high levels of mercury in their soil as a result.

At 23 April, 2008 15:34, Blogger Jennifer said...

Well, that's what I was trying to point out---lots of things have mercury in or spewing out of them (the way some people were talking for a while you'd think half my fillings would have left me braindead long ago), so relatively speaking the amount in a CFL shouldn't pose that much of an extra problem. And since they last so much longer than incandescent bulbs, the rate at which people throw light bulbs away should be greatly reduced, although I really hope folks will pay attention to the labels all over them warning that they need to be disposed of at a proper facility.

I'm of the opinion that we should worry first about industrial air/water pollution and the scores of other toxic objects that are already thrown away as "normal rubbish" even though they shouldn't be. But maybe it's a good idea after all to cover all the bases before introducing a new technology (or mainstreaming a newish technology), just so we don't keep having these problems. Ideally both are equally important, I suppose.

At 23 April, 2008 16:19, Blogger Jennifer said...

Uh, and for someone so concerned about the mercury in fluorescent light bulbs, it's a bit odd that you're advertising fluorescent tubes right there on the front page of your Web site. I've seen smashed pieces of those littered about far more often.


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