"There's so much misinformation about mercury in compact fluorescent lighting [CFL], American consumers are being discouraged from using them. In fact, use of CFLs will result in far less mercury in the environment rather than more,” said John P. Bachner, communications director of the National Lighting Bureau (NLB), an independent source of lighting information.
According to Bachner, consumers are concerned that the mercury in a CFL can be released as a vapor when a CFL is broken. However, he said, even in a small room, the impact on air quality is well below danger levels established by OSHA. According to Bachner, the amount of mercury in a typical CFL is not enough to coat the head of a pin, and the average swordfish contains 20 times more mercury. Moreover, Bachner said, when a CFL is broken, most of its mercury adheres to the glass and does not disperse into the air.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s guidance on cleaning up a broken CFL is available at the NLB Web site (www.nlb.org), as is a white paper developed by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA).
Bachner’s argument is that CFLs actually reduce the amount of mercury that enters our atmosphere because they use much less electricity than ordinary incandescent bulbs. Most of the nation’s electricity is generated by coal-fired power plants, which release mercury and other chemicals into the atmosphere. Bachner said the amount of mercury and other chemicals now being released to the nation’s air to power household incandescent lighting could be reduced by 75 percent or more if everyone switched to CFLs.
Bachner conceded, however, that we still should be concerned about the proper disposal and recycling of CFLs. Bachner said America’s lighting-product manufacturers are taking a role in addressing the issue. He said they are continuing to work on an energy-efficient replacement for mercury, and in the interim, manufacturers that are members of NEMA have agreed to strictly limit the mercury content of their CFL products. Furthermore, CFL recycling technology already is being used, and Bachner said the only real CFL-recycling challenge now is making disposal easier for consumers.
The NLB is one of several organizations now working to develop CFL collection centers in every U.S. community. IKEA stores have already agreed to participate, and the U.S. Postal Service is starting an experimental program.
“We expect that steadily more retailers will want to lend a hand because CFL recycling connects them to a worthwhile, green cause while also building consumer traffic,” Bachner said. “Time is on our side, given that the average CFL installed today will not need to be recycled for seven to 10 years.” He said, during the same time period, consumers might have to replace an incandescent bulb as many as five times. “So more reliance on CFLs would also result in fewer manufacturing resources being used, including electricity, and less burden on the nation’s waste stream,” he said.