Friday, December 26, 2014

I will not buy CFLs if I can help it because they are hazardous

The noble, non-toxic incandescent bulb
I never paid much attention to the new compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) which are being used more and more in place of the incandescents until I broke a CFL. Then I discovered that CFLs are classified as hazardous waste. So when you break an incandescent bulb, your biggest hazard is glass shards. So you sweep up the shards, throw them in the trash and go on with your life. Not so with CFLs - these are the steps that the EPA itself recommends if you break one:

Before Cleanup

  • Have people and pets leave the room.
  • Air out the room for 5-10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoor environment. 
  • Shut off the central forced air heating/air-conditioning system, if you have one.
  • Collect materials needed to clean up broken bulb:
    • stiff paper or cardboard;
    • sticky tape;
    • damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes (for hard surfaces); and
    • a glass jar with a metal lid or a sealable plastic bag.

During Cleanup

  • DO NOT VACUUM.  Vacuuming is not recommended unless broken glass remains after all other cleanup steps have been taken.  Vacuuming could spread mercury-containing powder or mercury vapor.
  • Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder.  Scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard.  Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder. Place the used tape in the glass jar or plastic bag.  See the detailed cleanup instructions for more information, and for differences in cleaning up hard surfaces versus carpeting or rugs.
  • Place cleanup materials in a sealable container.

After Cleanup

  • Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials, including vacuum cleaner bags, outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of.  Avoid leaving any bulb fragments or cleanup materials indoors. 
  • Next, check with your local government about disposal requirements in your area, because some localities require fluorescent bulbs (broken or unbroken) be taken to a local recycling center. If there is no such requirement in your area, you can dispose of the materials with your household trash.
  • If practical, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the heating/air conditioning system shut off for several hours.
If you have further questions, please call your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.
And please note, there is no public service announcement system that I am aware of that lets people even know that the disposal of a CFL bulb is very different from the disposal of an incandescent bulb. Who knows how many people have breathed in and/or disbursed mercury vapors because they had no idea.

And then there's disposal of a burnt-out CFL bulb - again, you are not supposed to just throw it in a trash can, you are supposed to take them somewhere, because they are toxic.
New research from scientists in California and South Korea, published yesterday in Environmental Science and Technology, shows that while compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) and LEDs have better energy efficiency than incandescent bulbs, they compare unfavorably when you look at their potential toxicity (at the end-of-life phase) and resource depletion...

I find it appalling that not only are CFLs much more toxic that incandescent bulbs, but that this information is so poorly communicated at a time when incandescent bulbs are being phased out.
Governments around the world have passed measures to phase out incandescent light bulbs for general lighting in favor of more energy-efficient lighting alternatives. Phase-out regulations effectively ban the manufacture, importation or sale of incandescent light bulbs for general lighting. The regulations would allow sale of future versions of incandescent bulbs if they are sufficiently energy efficient.