Fans of compact fluorescent light bulbs try to shrug off the fact that these dangerous bulbs contain mercury, a substance that’s very hazardous to our health and our environment. They say that power plants generate mercury, so producing less power means they produce less mercury.
But just about all the compact fluorescent light bulbs used in the United States are produced in China. So, at best, people who use compact fluorescent light bulbs are trading pollution in the United States for pollution in China.
And let’s not forget that the mercury thrown away in compact fluorescent light bulbs each year is enough to pollute nearly every lake, pond, river and stream in North America.
Awareness of the dangers from compact fluorescent light bulbs isn’t what it should be. How should people dispose of these dangerous light bulbs? This issue recently came before a committee of the Aiken County Council in South Carolina, according to a story in today’s August Chronicle:
The county has never had a formal procedure or policy concerning the bulbs, but County Administrator Clay Killian said the bulbs can be safely placed in a landfill or household trash, as long as one precaution is taken.
“They suggest, they being DHEC (the Department of Health and Environmental Control) and the people still writing the rules, you should put them in a plastic bag before you put it in your trash,” he said.
Such disposal, he said, is allowed because the bulbs are considered household hazardous waste, adding that “due to its low volume they can be disposed of in the landfill and regular trash.”
But the mercury from one compact fluorescent light bulb can pollute 6,000 gallons of water beyond safe levels for drinking. As a nation, we’re already putting 600 million compact fluorescent light bulbs into our landfills every year. That’s enough mercury to pollute 3.6 trillion gallons of water.
We really don’t need the fine citizens of Aiken County, or anybody else, adding to this problem. By all means put your used compact fluorescent light bulb in a plastic bag. But don’t put it in your trash. Put it in a small box and mail it to your Congressman or Senator in Washington. Congress is forcing us to buy these dangerous light bulbs. Let Congress handle disposing of them. They’re the experts. They’ll know what to do.
Supporters of compact fluorescent light bulbs like to talk about their benefits to our environment. Here’s an example from CryuSpace.com:
One Compact fluorescent lamp… saves more than 2,000 times its own weight in greenhouse gasses.
Two Thousand Times. Think about it, if we all replace all our bulbs with CFLs what could happen? The average American household has 16-20 light bulbs. That’s 32,000 – 40,000 times less. Isn’t that quite an impact, just from ONE person?
Yes, let’s do think about it! Let’s answer the quesiton: “if we all replace all our bulbs with CFLs what could happen?”
There are about 300 million people in the United States. Let’s assume the average household has 4 people. That makes 75 million households. If the average American household has 16 light bulbs (the low end of the estimate from CryuSpace.com) then “if we all replace all our bulbs with CFLs” that makes 1.2 billion CFLs in place.
As we’ve noted previously, the mercury from one fluorescent bulb can pollute 6,000 gallons of water beyond safe levels for drinking. So “if we all replace all our bulbs with CFLs” then we’re introducing enough mercury into the environment to pollute 7.2 trillion gallons of water beyond safe levels for drinking.
Of course, not all of the mercury from these light bulbs will pollute our environment. Not if you send your light bulbs to Washington!