Research Report: Mercury in Fluorescent Lighting

Continuing on with the recent excellent additions to Howard Brandston’s website,, it links to an extensive study (alt link) by Rik Gheysens about mercury on fluorescent lighting, the preliminary report now being available, it will have a finalised version, meanwhile the author welcomes comments to it via the email in the document.

The latest update is available here:
Direct document link to the last version, at the time of writing.
It is much the same as on Howard’s site, but the below extracts are from the that version:


1. Impact of mercury exposure on human health
2. Mercury: demand and supply
3. Mercury in fluorescent lighting
4. Does mercury in lighting result in less mercury in the environment compared to traditional light bulbs?
5. UNEP and EU intertwined with private interests
6. Health problems during production phase, use and disposal of fluorescent lighting
7. Ethical consuming and freedom of choice
8. Conclusion

Summary (of each section)

1. Impact of mercury exposure on human health
It is an accepted fact that mercury and methyl mercury in particular are very dangerous to human health. An overview is given of the characteristics of mercury, the health effects and the origin of methyl mercury in fish.

2. Mercury: demand and supply
Some facts are summed up about the reduction of the global primary mercury production, the global consumption, the emission of mercury to the atmosphere, and the average emission in some countries. The chapter ends with a short discussion about actions which have been undertaken to reduce mercury emission in power plants.

3. Mercury in fluorescent lighting
We bring into focus the demand of mercury by the lighting sector. The directive 2002/95/EC has exempted the fluorescent lamps from the requirement for the substitution of mercury.
What is the amount of mercury in fluorescent lamps and in particularly in CFLs?
At this moment, no alternatives for fluorescent tubes and HID lamps are available. But CFLs can be very easily substituted. We ascertain that the most suitable alternative for the CFL is the halogen lamp and the incandescent lamp but in some countries the incandescent lamp has been banned.

4. Does mercury in lighting result in less mercury in the environment compared to traditional light bulbs?
We try to answer the question if the argumentation to justify CFLs in the U.S. and in EU-27 is valid.
We find that today, an average of mercury between 0.006 and 0.009 mg/kWh is emitted during the generation of electricity in EU-27 (instead of 0.016 mg/kWh) and about 0.009 or 0.010 mg/kWh in the U.S. (instead of 0.012 mg/kWh).
Comparing a clear incandescent bulb, a new halogen lamp and a CFL, we find that the new halogen lamp is the best choice and the CFL the worst choice. So, the CFL cannot be justified. Because of these findings, an immediate ban has to be ordered on CFLs. In regions with a low emission of mercury, the net result is that only CFLs are spreading mercury. In regions with a huge emission of mercury, other measures than the distribution of CFLs are needed to reduce the pollution.

5. UNEP and EU intertwined with private interests
UNEP has given undue preference to Philips Lighting and OSRAM AG through the en.lighten iniative. The partnership with UNEP is not only intended to promote CFLs over the whole world but also to develop a road-map for the global phase-out of incandescent bulbs. Under the pressure of CFL manufacturers, the U.S. and the E.U. took measures to ban incandescent lamps. The world has to be freed from the undue obtrusiveness with which some lighting manufacturers are spreading their CFLs. The lobby of the private industry in the decision making in the E.U. must urgently be restrained.

6. Health problems during production phase, use and disposal of fluorescent lighting
Serious health problems are recorded during the production phase of CFLs, in particularly in China, where most CFLs are produced. Research is going on to investigate if ultraviolet and electromagnetic radiation from CFLs is a risk factor for the aggravation of light-sensitive symptoms in some patients. Broken CFLs mean a danger to the health, especially for children.
The measures issued by the governments or institutions of different countries are not univocal.
Not recycled CFLs are a serious problem for the environment and for health.

7. Ethical consuming and freedom of choice
The consumer has the right to acquire the most appropriate product to meet his well-considered demands. The ban on incandescent lamps means a violation of the free market principles. Certain preferences cannot be fulfilled by CFLs.
The Cradle to Cradle principle suggests that every product should have a complete cycle mapped out for each component. This is not the case with CFLs, due to the fact that most of these lamps end up in a landfill and due to the losses during exploitation of mercury, production phase and breakage.
Ethical minded consumers don’t want to buy fluorescent lamps because these lamps do not comply with an ethical production, i.e. with a minimal harm to the natural environment.
This chapter ends with a small test of CFLs. The conclusion is that in the given circumstances, to buy a CFL is somehow to take part in a lottery.

8. Conclusion
The production of CFLs should be banned immediately. We demand an immediate lift of the ban on incandescent lamps and clear notices on the package about the content of mercury and about the dangers intrinsic to fluorescent tubes.
Each habitant should be able to receive data about the emission of fine particles, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, mercury, etc. in his region. Especially in Europe, a lack of such information is ascertained.

In a nutshell

• Coal fired power plants are by far the largest source of mercury to air.
• A range of widely available, technical and economically feasible practices, technologies, and compliance strategies are available to power plants to meet the emission limits.
• A VITO-study concluded: “(…) even in the worst possible case that a CFL goes to the landfill, during its lifetime it will have saved more mercury emissions from electricity production in coal power plants (compared to the mercury emissions related to the conventional incandescent bulbs’ electricity need) than is contained in the CFL itself, so the overall mercury pollution balance will be positive.” (VITO-report 2009)
This mantra, based on outdated figures, is still repeated without further research. Meanwhile, in any developed country or state, emission limits are valid. Nowadays in Europe and in the U.S., all base is lacking to justify the use of CFLs and to ban the incandescent light bulb.
• In other countries with a higher power plant mercury emission, it would witness of malicious pleasure to distribute mercury containing CFLs to tackle the problem of mercury pollution.
One has to deal with the problem of the power plant mercury emission, and one has not to add
a new problem. If one would fully consider the ‘way of mercury’, – the exploitation of mercury mines, the manufacturing and recycling of CFLs inclusive – , then one should discover how noxious this whole process is.
• U.S. EPA must stop to spread wrong information about the mercury pollution in landfills.
Their assertion that CFLs reduce the amount of mercury released in the environment is not correct.
The new halogen lamps and even the incandescent bulbs are better than CFLs, regarding the environmental impacts.
• The E.U. must stop to use the outdated number of mercury pollution by power plants.
With the correct number, they cannot prove that CFLs are better than the halogen and incandescent lamps. The ban on incandescent lamps has to be lifted!
It was a great mistake to design the mercury containing CFLs.

A well researched review,
with an interesting if rather extreme conclusion even for this SYLBTW blog taste (“the production of CFLs should be banned immediately”!).

But a welcome counter to all the usual defence arguments about “other mercury sources” etc being worse, which is always a weak justification at the best of times – to the extent mercury is a problem, wherever found, then 2 wrongs don’t make a right.
Not even in Washington!



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4 responses to “Research Report: Mercury in Fluorescent Lighting

    •  lighthouse

      😉 is the pope a catholic?
      just saw this in spam folder..
      how can any message related to a Paris apartment be treated as spam?!!

  1. Pingback: Update on Rik Gheysens CFL study | Send Your Light Bulbs To Washington

  2. Pingback: Update on Rik Gheysens CFL study | Send Your Light Bulbs To Washington


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