A recent conversation which took place on the EPA’s official Facebook page was the catalyst for this article. The discussion unfolded when someone commented that they had replaced all their incandescent bulbs with energy efficient CFLs and started to save money on their electric bill. From there someone else joined the conversation, sparking the debate that CFLs contain mercury and are therefore unsafe for home use. There is no mystery here, the CFL bulbs do contain mercury, mercury is a potent neurotoxin, but the question remains, are the bulbs safe for your house?
First let’s examine mercury… It is a known fact that mercury exposure is dangerous, depending on the level of exposure and type of mercury you are exposed to, the symptoms could vary from skin discoloration and kidney dysfunction to memory impairment. Common CFL bulbs contain about 4 milligrams (mg) of mercury, compare that to older thermometers that you used growing up which contain about 500mg. Additionally, most manufacturers are now able to reduce the total volume of mercury to about 1mg thanks to technological advances in the industry. You should also consider that the bulbs that light most office buildings, retail stores and even doctor’s offices are also fluorescent.
The U.S. is responsible for 103 metric tons of mercury emissions each year, half of which comes from power plants burning coal. This mercury often mixes with water and accumulates into fish and other sea life. Consumption of tainted fish is the primary cause of human exposure to mercury, not broken CFL bulbs. In fact, CFL bulbs actually reduce the levels of mercury in the environment by helping cut the emissions from the main polluters, the coal fired power plants. CFLs reduce energy consumption, lower greenhouse gases and minimize landfill waste, thus they are the clear winner when compared to traditional incandescent bulbs.
Lastly, exposure can only occur if you break the CFLs’ glass, there is no exposure by simply touching an intact CFL bulb. We can’t stop web rumors or conjecture but the facts are in, compact fluorescent bulbs are safe for your home. The best way I can convince you of that is that we have them throughout our home where two children play happily.
Image By: Dan