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Have a Light Bulb Moment

Have a Light Bulb Moment
April 14, 2011 SNH Editorial Team

Incandescent light bulbs versus hazmat – light bulbs are among  the most basic of home products AND they are being phased out.  California leads with a full ban on sales starting in 2015. What’s next? There are two – very different & very important – replacement choices: One, so-called energy efficient light bulbs (CFL’s) or two LED’s. Which one should you choose? This choice comes to down to the light bulb with a possible built-in HAZMAT exposure for your family (CFL’s) and a truly green building product, (LED’s).

The Environmental Protection Agency promotes the use of Energy Star qualified fluorescent (CFL’s) or energy efficient light bulbs with statements such as:

“If every American home replaced just one light bulb with an Energy Star approved compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL), the United States would save enough energy to light more than 2.3 million homes for a year and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of nearly 800,000 cars.”

Sounds like a good thing for every Homeowner to do – but perhaps not so fast – know the risks! CFL bulbs contain mercury, a known neurotoxin.

Fluorescent light bulbs break easily.  The release of mercury creates toxic mercury spills & mercury vapor releases.  In Sept. 2009 EPA and the US Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR) launched “Don’t Mess with Mercury” – a video to educate middle school students about the seriousness of mercury hazards.  Today, few municipalities offer CFL recycling programs.  Cities with curbside recycling commonly do not pick up the bulbs.

Beyond the matter of recycling, families especially with children and pets should carefully weigh the risk of exposure to mercury spills & vapor due to breakage before installing energy saving CFL bulbs in their homes. Mercury contamination is serious!

Households who decide to install energy efficient CFL bulbs are well advised to know clean up procedures in case of spills.  Here are some of the EPA’s clean up recommendations:

–       Leave the room for at least 30 minutes immediately following a mercury spill

–       Shut down central HVAC systems to avoid circulating mercury vapors throughout the house

–       NEVER use a broom or vacuum

–       Use proper gloves and masks

–       Scoop up glass and powder into a glass jar sealed with a metal top (to be recycled on toxic materials days – never in  regular garbage!)

–       Use sticky tape such as duct tape to pull up glass fragments & powder

–       Throw away soiled clothing, bedding etc. – never wash!

CFL bulbs cost less than LED bulbs.  However, LED’s last MUCH longer.  While the acquisition cost may be greater initially, add in the environmental cost AND add to that the potential health cost to you and your family. The choice is clear: LED’s bulbs should be the choice of every US household.

Manufacturers like Phillips and LSCG have vastly improved the quality of LED light to the point of making them dimmable. In addition, many LED’s have attained Energy Star qualifications.

So, while CFL’s are marketed as “environmentally friendly” and inexpensive, LED’s are indeed good for the planet, offer much better light at about the same cost when one considers their overall lifespan. The choice is clear: LED’s.