Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Why you should not break energy saving lamps - Mercury Alert

You remember how we've all been obliged to change to those annoying energy-saving lamps, or compact fluorescent light (CFLs) because they are supposed to save the planet? Well you'll be interested to learn that while they might use less electricity and thus save on CO2 emissions = good for the planet, they also contain mercury which is liberated if a bulb is broken = bad for the planet, you, your children, your spouse, your cat, groundwater and everyone else.

This is what you should do if you break a bulb in your house:
Note hazardous materials symbol!
Here in France, we are told about waste disposal and recycling these bulbs. Television adverts remind us not to throw them in the bin where they would end up in landfill sites, break and enable the mercury to seep out, down and into groundwater... We are instructed to take them to recycling centres or put them in special cardboard boxes in supermarkets. They make it easy for us, but they don't tell us to be careful when we put the bulbs in the box so they don't break and liberate toxic mercury fumes into the ventilation system of the busy supermarket...

Don't you feel that someone somewhere is taking the piss? There will be billions of these bulbs throughout Europe alone. Obviously many of them will be broken, thrown away with the trash and generally misused.

As if that wasn't bad enough:
"Research done by the Alab Laboratory in Berlin, detected several known carcinogenic chemicals and toxins being emitted when CFLs were switched on, including phenol, naphthalene and styrene. Their report advised that CFLs should not be left switched on for extended periods and their location should be as far as possible from a person’s head, to reduce the chance of inhaling the toxins. In some similar research, done for the Federation of German Engineers, the scientists came back with the recommendation that CFLs should not be used in an unventilated environment and again, that they should be placed as far away from the head as possible. They described the carcinogens as a kind of electrical smog produced around these lights."

Quite apart from the environmental hazards and the carcinogenic smog, there are other serious health problems associated with these bulbs too (remind me why they are banning inoffensive incandescent lamps again...):
  • CFL lamps emit UV-B and -C radiation, the latter being particularly harmful as it can cause skin cancer and cataracts.
  • People with pre-existing skin conditions can react badly to CFLs, and it can cause skin conditions in those who didn't have them before. 
  • Cheap, flickering CFL can trigger migraines, headaches, eyestrain.
  • The blue light emitted by CFLs can cause a reduction in the production of melatonin which is essential for sleeping patterns and can affect cardiovascular disease and cancer, plus the production of hormones and neurotransmitters.
  • They also contain toxic chemicals "which studies have linked to harmful effects on the hormonal and reproductive system, the liver, the thyroid gland, to cancer and neurological effects".
When you consider that the only problem with incandescent lights was the increased CO2 because they used more electricity, you've got to wonder if a campaign to turn off the lights when you leave a room wouldn't have been sufficient. The planet is still endangered because of the risk of mercury poisoning affecting everything that lives and consumes water, and the list of potential health hazards to users is surely way more important than the saving in electricity consumption.

Could someone please remind me why the Powers that Be are banning incandescent lamps; not just advising consumers to use CFLs, but forcing them to use nothing else?

The solution of course, is to use halogen lamps, except that they use more electricity which renders the whole point of banning incandescent lamps rather futile.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions... n'est-ce pas?