I was recently asked by a Houston energy company to write about my thoughts on the CFL bulbs, so here goes in a nutshell:
The entree of CFLs or Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs into modern culture was almost imperceptible. Globally, we’ve come to accept the curly bulbs as a ‘Green’ product. Heck, they’re practically a symbol of the cause.
But millions of us are bringing these bulbs into our homes without knowing anything about them, especially the dangers.
I know because I was one of the people who blindly accepted the bulbs as ecological. Never thought twice about them.
It wasn’t until one day when my mother was very upset about the CFL bulbs that they ever came into question. Her agitation stemmed from the upcoming ban on traditional bulbs. It seemed so absurd that I didn’t believe her. Surely we’ll always have a choice. Who would ban one of the simplest and most effective inventions of all time? Just don’t buy them if you don’t like them.
But she said no, it was a BAN, as in illegal to have a regular light bulb after 2012.
I tried to imagine a fluorescent world and the image struck me cold.
Yet my consciousness was dug in. The bulbs had to be good for the environment if government and Green leaders were touting them.
When she told me they contained Mercury, I said, well, it couldn’t be that much. Surely someone in power was making sure we’re safe.
Looking back, I see that I didn’t want to believe that CFL bulbs were anything but an improvement and advancement.
The fact that I had such a strong opinion on a subject I knew nothing about prompted me to go home that day and look into the subject.
What I discovered was astounding and surreal. It unfolded in front of me like a frightening movie with all the bells and whistles of corporate greed, wagging the dog and Big Brother.
There was so much information I felt the need to channel my findings and try to make sense of it, so I started a blog.
First I read about light bulb factories in the US. Just after the stimulus was given out, all of the US light bulb plants were shut down one by one from Ohio to Georgia. All bulbs will now be made in China.
I found articles about Asian workers getting Mercury poisoning from production lines. Information on new Mercury mines being built to keep up with production of the hundreds of millions of bulbs being mandated. Most shocking was that the new mines are in third world and undeveloped countries that have yet to be exploited. And the companies and banks behind the bulbs, the mines and the ban were partners.
It seems that big business has a goal to put a CFL bulb in every socket, in every country, in every house, in every room. It would be a brilliant, capitalist move if not for the neglect to see it through from creation to disposal.
I discovered that world’s largest polluter is responsible for the lobbying, sale and distribution of the bulbs. Their trails of devastation are known as Superfund sites; places that have been contaminated and never cleaned up.
The interest with what happens to the bulbs once they’ve been sold is not a concern.
There’s so much support for the bulbs, debates about the benefits, lifespan, theories that less coal will be used and all sorts of technical data trying to show the upside.
But despite that these bulbs must be transported across an ocean, will be our only legal option, packed in plastic and cost more than regular bulbs to make and purchase, there’s the issue of clean up and disposal.
According to the EPA’s website, for every bulb disposed of improperly in a landfill, there will be 6,000 gallons of groundwater pollution. Walmart alone has sold hundreds of millions of them already, and most consumers do not know how to handle a dead or broken bulb. The fact is that burned out CFL bulbs are considered Toxic Hazardous Waste.
But most people do not know how to dispose of them, whether in cosmopolitan cities or a rural town. Disposal instructions on the package simply say, ‘Dispose of in accordance with local laws’.
The EPA also states that if a CFL breaks indoors, you must evacuate children and pets and open windows and doors for at least 15 minutes, whatever the weather. The Mercury vapors from the break can cause neurological damage to those in its presence, whether adult or an unborn child.
If a bulb breaks on the carpet, said carpet must be cut out where the bulb broke. A vacuum cannot be used as it spreads the Mercury vapors further.
Researching this has uncovered information on everything from CFLs triggering epileptic seizures to migraines.
It’s hard to believe the world would accept these bombs into our homes with pure abandon.
Having a bulb in your car to drive it to the toxic waste dump can be harrowing so
the EPA suggests that to carry it, you use two plastic bags, duct tape, rubber gloves and put it in a glass jar. Not exactly green.
Most communities don’t have local Toxic Waste Dumps in place. Home Depot and Ikea will take back some bulbs if they’re unbroken. If they get tossed into the recycling bin at home they have the potential to break and you put your recycling fellows at risk. What if your town doesn’t have one of these stores? Where will the bulbs go?
This is just the tip of the iceberg.
Some countries have completely adopted the bulbs such as Australia, Canada and England. They’ve gone as far as to have their neighbors call the police if they find an incandescent in a home.
The fact is that there is nothing wrong with incandescents. In fact, they’re extremely efficient and we have the technology to make them so they don’t burn out at all.
With all the talk of CFLs lasting longer and only needing to be replaced every year or so, I was pleasantly surprised to discover what I believe is the lynch pin in the equation.
Turns out that Thomas Edison’s first bulbhas been lit for over 100 years and still burning in California. What this means is that we have the technology to make bulbs that don’t burn out at all Yet as a society we’re told to consume these new bulbs even though from creation to disposal, there negatives outweigh any savings on coal burning.
The government is going to force us to use a product that is dangerous and actually less efficient.
Regular bulbs are easy to clean up (especially with children), and are simple and inexpensive to make. Not to mention they can warm up a room and are dimmable. Why would we give up that kind of technology or not explore it further?
A bright spot is that the debate is surging in America and states like Texas and South Carolina have decided to ban the ban. Unfortunately it’s turning into a political issue.
But with discussion and open minds, we can only hope the people of the world will soon see the light.