I admit to being a bit of a tree hugger. We’re all trying to do our part to make the world greener and are at point where we’ll do anything if we think it will help. But what happens when a product comes along that we’re told will do the trick, but actually does more harm than good?
(photo from The New York Times)
In a veiled attempt to conserve energy, some dangerous plans have been set into motion that could cause damage to our air and water supplies in a very short time.
One of the last things George Bush did before he left office was to institute the change from incandescent light bulbs to fluorescents (also known as CFLs), a mandatory, forced switch out, by 2010.
The world’s biggest producer of the new bulbs and advocate for the change is General Electric, one of the largest polluters on the Political Economy Research Institute’s Toxic 100 index. The index is based on EPA Toxics Release Inventory data which ranks the nation’s largest companies based on the quantity of their emissions, relative toxicity of chemicals emitted.
Have you ever broken a lightbulb? Of course, we all have. Millions of us.
It was not a big deal with the the innocuous incandescent light bulb. There were no vapors, no dangers, no chance of real harm. Now we’re being told to replace all our light bulbs (throw them in a landfill)! with fluorescent spiral bulbs which are harmful in many different ways we’re only beginning to understand.
That said, I’m all for saving energy and look at ways to conserve all the time. But when I started researching these bulbs, I found that they’re not really green at all, in fact, just the opposite. This is is a case where the bulbs are being touted as safe, yet they’re being produced in a way that’s environmentally unsafe or for the workers who manufacture them and at the same time are extremely inefficient to produce and deliver.
Turns out it takes much more energy to create the new compact fluorescents in every way. The mercury required to make them in the first place and that spills when they break, can be threatening to our health. I read the packages and saw nothing about the dangers on GE’s boxes. No warning, no cautions and no disposal methods. This sign is supposed to be posted where the bulbs are sold.
Mercury vapor has been linked to neurological problems, kidney failure, tremors, insomnia, headaches and neuromuscular changes. These vapors are especially harmful to brains of fetuses and children and severe damage to the central nervous system and liver are possible if it’s absorbed through the skin or inhaled.
If the owner of a broken bulb doesn’t know there are precautions to take in the clean up, they could cause an epidemic and contaminate their family and community. If someone happens to wash bedding or clothing it breaks on, (instead of throwing all of it away, again, not too green), it will send contaminates directly into the community water system. What’s going to happen when these bulbs break in hundreds (or millions) of homes? Walmart’s already sold over 100 million of them.
The cleanup advice itself is not green at all, as it involves everything from plastic bags to duct tape, not to mention having to throw away anything it shattered on, the dustpan and brush, gloves and mask as well, all creating more garbage and waste. You can’t clean it up with a broom as it will spread the mercury through the house, endangering children and pets.
In some states you can put the broken bulb in your outdoor trash and leave someone else to deal with it at the landfill. Or you can dispose of them at your local toxic waste dump, ( if you’re lucky enough to have one of those in your area)! If it’s put with the recycling, mercury can contaminate those who sort it. Those that end up in landfills will, naturally, they’ll be crushed and release mercury into the soil. Ikea and Home Depot will take them for you if happen to have one nearby and want to make the effort. But we only recycle 1% of what’s renewable now, so what are the chances, especially in underdeveloped nations where changes are forced on citizens?
Just how green is any of this? It’s not. At all. GE and Phillips other big producers would like to see everyone smash their old light bulbs and proclaim freedom while they hold up the twisty alternative as a green gift from heaven. Meanwhile they misinform and enlighten us with their green website initiative which glosses over the dangers.
None of this is helping the environment and is creating more toxic waste, using more energy and putting the world’s water in danger. To add insult to injury, they’re not even made in the US! Worst of all, the entire crusade is being spearheaded by GE who closed factories in Virgina and Ohio among others, and moved production to China where workers are being compromised. In factories where CFLs are made, mercury spillage is common during the manufacturing process, and workers are often exposed to deadly chemicals. Massive clean-up bills are accumulating to decontaminate factories and surrounding areas where CFLs were made. With spillages happening regularly, the long term health of the workers are of course, at risk.
The inefficiency of these bulbs is probably the biggest farce. One of the selling points is that they don’t give off heat, yet, in the winter, we’re advised to change back to regular bulbs to save on heating bills as incandescents add warmth to a room and help regulate thermostats. CFLS don’t work in extreme cold, can’t be dimmed, (so they have to run at full power at all times) and will fail prematurely if switched on and off many times a day. Therefore people tend to leave them on all day. Regular lights would otherwise be switched off, so now a household might have 4 or 5 of these CFLs running for hours at a time, where they may have had only 1 or 2 incandescent lamps switched on (and possibly on dimmers), therefore reducing power significantly.
Venezuela, Australia, Canada, and Cuba are trying to make this the legal standard and phasing out the regular light bulb. Phase-outs are also pending in California, New Jersey and other states as well as the European Union.
Michigan Sen. John Gleason introduced legislation on June 12 that would, if enacted, criminalize the sale of incandescent bulbs in the state beginning in 2012 !
So before we go quietly into the night and get on the bandwagon, can you please take a look at the real consequences of bringing something so dangerous into our homes that would be government mandated? And think about whether we’re going to let the world tell us that what they’re proposing is better than what we have without knowing the truth. The concern is not for the environment. GE has 119 US contaminated areas they haven’t cleaned up yet and are starting to leave their trail in China and Taiwan now.
I’m all for a free market but I don’t want my fate hanging in the balance when a neighbor tosses out a deadly CFL grenade.
I personally don’t want to live in a fluorescent world which is why I started to research the topic. What I’ve been discovering is unnerving and painful to think about. But we have to make our own decisions, not let the government tell us how to live.
While we’re working toward a more sustainable future for the environment, we have to consider the cost to humans and the planet, not only of the bulb we pull from the shelf. We have to consider the raw materials it will now take to produce them. The components and the labor and the shipping and the electricity and the outsourcing and the packaging it costs to make them are exponentially higher. Consumers have to consider this carefully. It’s easy to believe that the governments of the world have assessed and researched and determined what “greener” purchases we should make. But the truth is they were lobbied heavier than at any time in history for this switchover and the homework just wasn’t done.
Until governments world-wide can ensure that proper safeguards and decent safe working conditions are a requirement for “environmentally friendly” products, these products should simply be banned from sale.
Please join me in boycotting these bulbs until we have more information about the damage they’re doing. The links on the blogroll have my sources and other extensive data research. Please check them out. Time is off the essence as they’re trying to make this happen by spring of next year while they think we’re not looking.