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Questions Arising On Mercury In Compact Fluorescents

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the now-they-tell-us dept.

Earth 560

Patchw0rk F0g sends in an article from MSNBC on how some environmentalists are having second thoughts on compact fluorescent bulbs. Their relative energy efficiency is unquestioned. The problem is the mercury — enough in one bulb to contaminate 1,000 gallons of water, even in newer low-mercury bulbs. The EPA has an 11-step cleanup process to follow when you break a CFL in your home. The specialized recycling facilities that are needed are thin on the ground — about one per county in California, one of seven states where it is illegal to dispose of CFLs in the general waste stream.

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I only liked CFLs because they lasted longer. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22812832)

I only like CFLs because they lasted longer than incadescents.

Otherwise, they suck.

LED lighting (5, Insightful)

bhsx (458600) | more than 6 years ago | (#22812834)

I really think LED will be the future of lighting in most situations. It's a long-lasting, mercury-free lightsource that can be targeted to any frequency. We are already seeing them used in Grow Light applications and other such things all the time. I think it will be a great day when we start seeing LED light installations just about everywhere we are using traditional lights today.

Re:LED lighting (4, Insightful)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 6 years ago | (#22812914)

I really think LED will be the future of lighting in most situations. It's a long-lasting, mercury-free lightsource that can be targeted to any frequency. We are already seeing them used in Grow Light applications and other such things all the time. I think it will be a great day when we start seeing LED light installations just about everywhere we are using traditional lights today.
I agree. When I can buy a LED light that will put off as much light as my current 60 watt bulbs (with good color), I'll replace every light in my house with them!

Re:LED lighting (5, Insightful)

kesuki (321456) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813050)

LEDs are the best and worst thing to happen to the lighting industry.

On the one hand, they're Extremely bright for the electricity consumed, very good, they can come in any wavelength of color, for multicolored lights like Christmas lights, or for 'party bulbs' that with a little circuitry could produce a flashing swirl of rainbow colored light by switching various LEDS off and on... They're very small, and that means you can make any variety of decorator bulb configurations...

On the other hand, they NEVER BURN OUT. the MTBF on a LED is 300,000+ hours http://www.iddaerospace.com/design_development/faq_transition_flight_deck.htm [iddaerospace.com]

that's over 1305% longer than Compact Fluorescent Bulbs... in truth a LED can easily last 500,000 hours of use, the MTBF is just an estimate.... and forget them burning out from being switched on and off, Myth busters tried to do it, they tested every array of lighting combinations, and the LED array was happily blinking away 3 months later, when they finally pulled the plug on trying to get them to burn out from switching them on and off...

So, now what do you do? The government assumes that by 2012 LEDs will use 1/3 the watts per lumen VS Compact fluorescent bulbs... so it's not going to take environmentalists long to promote the usage of LED lighting...

So LEDS are a double edged sword for the lighting industry, on the one hand they're the best of the best for the environment, but on the other hand there is no turnover of bulbs. you'll be giving the LED bulbs to your grandkids before they have to replace them... For instance if you use a light 3 hours a day it will last statistically nearly 274 years. if like wal-mart you run the bulb 24/7/365 the bulbs will last an average of 34.2 years. 34.2 years.... yeah you might forget how to change a light bulb, once you get used to LEDs.

Re:LED lighting (5, Insightful)

glavenoid (636808) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813136)

I'd much rather support the LED industry rather than Fluorescent lighting, simply for the lighting quality. Some of us can not physically handle fluorescent lighting...

Re:LED lighting (5, Informative)

jrumney (197329) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813320)

If you're talking about the unnatural color balance, then LEDs are no better than fluorescents. If you're talking about the flicker, then you are probably basing your experience on old fluorescent tube fittings that use a magnetic ballast at mains frequency (50-60Hz). Modern compact fluorescent bulbs use a high frequency electronic ballast that eliminates flicker completely.

Re:LED lighting (1)

Goblez (928516) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813140)

This sounds to me like an Industry that needs to expand past providing 'light bulbs' ever X months/years because they burn out, and find another way to provide a useful service.

Besides, who is going to complain about street lights that last centuries? I, for one, welcome one less thing to crop on my list from time to time.

Re:LED lighting (4, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813338)

Besides, who is going to complain about street lights that last centuries?

Depends on their proximity to my bedroom window.

Programmed Obsolescence (3, Insightful)

drooling-dog (189103) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813210)

No problem; they'll just do what the printer ink cartridge manufacturers do: Build in a chip that commits suicide after some specified period of time. That could be in hours of operation, or even calendar time. In the latter case, you're virtually renting them.

Re:LED lighting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22813284)

From the industry's point of view, the solution would be to make LED lighting more expensive to compensate for that longevity. However, if they are ludicrously long-lived, they might not be able to hike the price up enough without it becoming ridiculous. Also, LEDs have other uses where you certainly don't want to be artificially inflating the price.

the common wisdom (3, Interesting)

slew (2918) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813332)

I doubt there will be any real problems for the lighting industry...


You could make the same argument about low-flow showerheads or toilets or plumbing fixtures in general (how long to those last).


People still remodel, new houses are built, old houses are destroyed, people break them, someone will come up with a new lighting mechanism (maybe that aluminum foil micro plasma lighting [physorg.com] will become popular), and people will go through another replacement cycle.

Re:LED lighting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22813336)

You may want to read up on the Broken Window Fallacy [wikipedia.org] . Spending money to replace things more often than necessary is not a good thing.

Re:LED lighting (5, Funny)

unhooked (21010) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813060)

Q: How many hazmat teams does it take to change a lightbulb?

Re:LED lighting (1)

Ucklak (755284) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813266)

How many teenagers does it take to throw away 4 foot fluorescent bulbs in the dumpster that are used in their favorite workplace?
CFL has nothing on retail and restaurant back of the house lighting.

And those bulbs are used as lightning bolts to the teenager Zeus that smites upon the dumpster.

Re:LED lighting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22813126)

"can be targeted to any frequency"

For interior lightning, that is bad. A spread-spectrum (like sunlight and incandescent) light looks much better than spiky (leds, lasers, fluorescents).

-1 Anonymous :/

Re:LED lighting (2, Insightful)

canuck57 (662392) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813168)

Now that we decided Mercury is no longer so green, lets move on to LEDs.

LEDs, one way to make them is with arsenic. Now one diode of arsenic is nothing, put billions in the dump, let the plastics rot a bit and...

Now before we jump in this time like a mad heard of bison off a cliff, and almost ban previous source of like like Canada was almost going to do, lets think about the whole life cycle of the light source...and the end outcome before we leap.

This isn't to say I am against LEDs, I think if we look at it seriously, without the mindless green hype, lets settle on a technology that is really environmental friendly and economical.

Re:LED lighting (1)

d9000 (882617) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813222)

LEDs are especially well-suited for replacing standard MR16 halogen track lighting bulbs, where CFLs never really made significant inroads:

MR16 LED Bulbs [green-home.info]

Re:LED lighting (3, Interesting)

hardburn (141468) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813230)

LEDs are very sensitive to heat. Current fixtures for incandescent bulbs are designed to limit heat conduction, because all the heat coming off a bulb would damage the wires and probably cause a short. Although LEDs are far less heat-generating than incandescents, they still give off some and it needs to be taken away.

Hardly an insurmountable problem, but one that keeps LEDs from being an immediate solution.

There's also an intriguing possibility of using laser diodes for general lighting. These are even more efficient than LEDs. A lens can diffuse the beam, and they currently exist in red, green, and blue forms that could be combined into the proper color temperature. The one problem as yet is that green and blue laser diodes are still very expensive, though they're coming down.

Three questions. (2, Interesting)

iknownuttin (1099999) | more than 6 years ago | (#22812846)

  1. Doesn't mercury exposed to the air oxidize and become harmless?
  2. Isn't there more mercury in a filling. In other words, we're breathing mercury vapors all the time - if we have fillings?
  3. Isn't it interesting that In the meantime, manufacturers of incandescent bulbs are not going down without a fight. and then GE is mentioned?

Re:Three questions. (2, Informative)

gloryhallelujah (1111157) | more than 6 years ago | (#22812932)

from the material safety data sheet
http://www.jtbaker.com/msds/englishhtml/m1599.htm [jtbaker.com]

Danger! Corrosive. Causes Burns To Skin, Eyes, And Respiratory Tract. May Be Fatal If Swallowed Or Inhaled. Harmful If Absorbed Through Skin. Affects The Kidneys And Central Nervous System. May Cause Allergic Skin Reaction.

Re:Three questions. (1)

iknownuttin (1099999) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813076)

From Your link: Airborne Exposure Limits:
- OSHA Acceptable Ceiling Concentration:
mercury and mercury compounds: 0.1 mg/m3 (TWA), skin

Interesting. My Chemistry teacher in college told me, after I broke a thermometer, that I didn't need a mercury clean up kit for that little amount because it would oxidize. That's when he went on to tell me about the mercury in my fillings.

Re:Three questions. (5, Informative)

mapsjanhere (1130359) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813064)

1. Mercury oxide is as toxic as metallic mercury. The worst are mercury alkyls since they are the most readily absorbed
2. Mercury in filling is amalgamated with other metals and practically stable against leaching or vaporisation. Some studies have suggested you absorb more mercury by having old fillings drilled out than by leaving them in for a lifetime.

To put the whole problem with the CFB mercury in relation, 100 Million light bulbs at 5 mg each contain a total of 500 kg of mercury.

The EPA estimate for mercury emissions from coal fired power plants is 50,000 kg a year.

Further perspective (4, Interesting)

grahamsz (150076) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813202)

500kg of mercury is less than 10 gallons and that's the same as 100,000,000 CF bulbs.

If you eat 11oz of Yellowfin each week, you'll consume the same amount of mercury as eating 1 CF lightbulb each year, or 4oz of swordfish each week.

Re:Three questions. (4, Interesting)

Zymergy (803632) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813088)

Mercury is NEVER EVER Nontoxic.
It cannot be made nontoxic (despite what the amalgum "alchemists" of dentistry will tell you.)
The ADA will lie to their graves about Mercury's toxicities in the body from the mouth and lungs the lungs. HCL acid, AKA "stomach acid", does a great job of dissolving swallowed Mercury fillings and their residues readily dispersing the Mercury into the bloodstream.
Definitions of harmless vary.
Mercury vapor is heavier than air, it will not just float away.

Please read the MSDS for Mercury..., any questions?: http://www.jtbaker.com/msds/englishhtml/M1599.htm [jtbaker.com]

Gallium OTOH is a much more expensive and LESS toxic alternative in some devices, but not all.

Re:Three questions. (0, Troll)

Bryansix (761547) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813188)

This is not offtopic. Whomever modded it as such should have their mouth filled with dental amalgam fillings.

Re:Three questions. (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22813206)

1. Doesn't mercury exposed to the air oxidize and become harmless?

No. Elemental mercury at room temperatures is a liquid with extremely low vapor pressure, and will eventually (and slowly) evaporates. Long-term exposure (years) to high concentrations (break a CFL bulb and grind it onto the floor, every week, for a decade, in an unventilated room) mercury vapor is a bad thing. Oxides of mercury aren't really the point -- but for what it's worth, they're even less reactive than elemental mercury, and elemental mercury at room temperature isn't terribly bioreactive. You could swallow some (although I don't recommend it!), and you'd likely suffer no ill effects beyond some spectacularly shiny turds.

The scary MSDS sheet that someone else posted below speaks of mercury in its vapor form. Most metals, when heated to the boiling point, will present immediate dangers to life and health, and mercury is no exception. Because mercury boils at 365C (675F), liquid mercury is a Very Bad Thing to expose to fire.

The kind of mercury you really have to worry about is when it hooks up with organic compounds; dimethyl mercury [wikipedia.org] is a potent neurotoxin.

The reason we worry about CFLs being introduced into the waste stream is that the minute concentrations of elemental mercury can work their way into (and up) the food chain, and because interesting chemistry can happen when water leaches through waste dumps, and/or through fish.

The reason CFLs are still a Good Idea is because the burning of coal also results in mercury emissions. If a CFL consumes 8 watts for 10000 hours, and is then disposed of into the waste stream, its mercury must be added to that released by 80kWh of coal-burning. (Actually, more like 40kWh of coal-burning, assuming 50% of your power can come from nuclear, geothermal, hydroelectric, natural gas, solar, or wind.) In contrast, ten mercury-free incandescents (consuming 100W for 1000 hours each, times ten bulbs for the same 10000 hours of light) produce zero mercury waste by themselves -- but they also produce the waste associated with 1000kWh (at 50%, 500kWh) of coal-burning. Since (500-80=) 420 kWh of coal-burning introduces more than 5mg of mercury into the atmosphere, you're still doing the environment a favor by using a CFL, even if you just throw it into the garbage 10000 hours later when it finally expires.

2. Isn't there more mercury in a filling. In other words, we're breathing mercury vapors all the time - if we have fillings?

Yes and no. Yes, there is mercury in fillings. No, this mercury doesn't vaporize because it's a solid, locked up in the form of the other metals with which it's amalgamated. Elemental mercury is a liquid at room temperatures, and yet your fillings aren't liquid. The amalgam [ttp] in dental fillings is an alloy of mercury and other metals -- and much as bronze is an alloy of tin and copper, or solder is an alloy of lead and tin (or silver, bismuth, and copper for lead-free solder), the physical characteristics of alloys are, while well-known and researched, not intuitively derivable from the physical characteristics of their component metals.

> 3. Isn't it interesting that In the meantime, manufacturers of incandescent bulbs are not going down without a fight. and then GE is mentioned?

GE's lighting products make money for GE whether you use incandescents or fluorescents, or LEDs. If they can make an incandescent with the same energy usage and up-front cost of a CFL or LED, that'll be a winning product. GE's financial interest in MSNBC probably has something to do with it, but the sentence would be just as applicable to other manufacturers of lighting products.

MSNBC (1)

gloryhallelujah (1111157) | more than 6 years ago | (#22812856)

Waaaaaaaaaaay behind the curve on everything. Generic news for generic people.

Bring in the LEDs (1)

Rog7 (182880) | more than 6 years ago | (#22812858)

Seems to me a few of the so-called environmentally friendly technologies are just a temporary stopgap. It's not much different with hybrid cars, which are only a marginal improvement.

Shouldn't we be switching to the best possible solution that we have today, rather than letting the corporations milk the environment issue by giving us the new products in steps? Let's jump to LED solutions now. I'm sure there will be even better light sources in the future, but AFAIK this is a more advanced step that we could be taking right away rather than compromising with florescent.

Re:Bring in the LEDs (1)

A beautiful mind (821714) | more than 6 years ago | (#22812904)

LEDs are not much more energy efficient today than CFLs. The numbers that can be usually seen on LED watt usage do not take into account that the numbers are given without taking the arc of lighting into account. LEDs might only consume 4W, but their light emission is quite focused, usually around 20 or so. When you use various techniques to get more, you're back at the CFL level in a W : lumen : arc comparison.

Re:Bring in the LEDs (1)

Rog7 (182880) | more than 6 years ago | (#22812938)

A good point, although the LED bulbs should last much longer, so less wasteful even if you're using more bulbs and wattage is the same.

Re:Bring in the LEDs (1)

Murphy Murph (833008) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813054)

A good point, although the LED bulbs should last much longer, so less wasteful even if you're using more bulbs and wattage is the same.

Really? I'd love to see just your breakdown of the environmental impact of manufacturing LED vs CFL, with details of energy used and heavy metal pollution. It sounds like you have just the cost:benefit analysis I've been long searching for.

Re:Bring in the LEDs (2, Informative)

david@ecsd.com (45841) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813020)

LEDs are not much more energy efficient today than CFLs.

But how much mercury leeches into the ground from a LED thrown into the landfill after it "burns out" (i.e. stops working for whatever reason) or how much mercury gets into the immediate environment when they break? If you can come up with soft white LEDs than aren't too much more expensive than CFLs then I, at least, will buy them.

Really, you can do all the efficiency comparisons in the world, all I give a crap about is if they're cheaper to put in my lamps and fixtures than incandescents. If they're about the same as florescent, 99% of people are going to shrug and buy that which isn't going to give their children brain damage when they break.

Re:Bring in the LEDs (1)

Itninja (937614) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813040)

True statement. But won't a new LED light source usually outlive the person who bought/installed it? Seems that would offset the value/earth-friendliness in LED's favor.

Not New News (4, Interesting)

26199 (577806) | more than 6 years ago | (#22812864)

This was on the BBC [bbc.co.uk] some months ago.

They were relatively reassuring about the health implications:

Toxicologist Dr David Ray, from the University of Nottingham, said about 6-8mg of mercury was present in a typical low-energy bulb, which he described as a "pretty small amount". "Mercury accumulates in the body - especially the brain," he said. "The biggest danger is repeated exposure - a one off exposure is not as potentially dangerous compared to working in a light bulb factory. "If you smash one bulb then that is not too much of a hazard. However, if you broke five bulbs in a small unventilated room then you might be in short term danger."

Something to be aware of, but not hugely worrying.

Re:Not New News (1)

GrassIsRed (1181869) | more than 6 years ago | (#22812934)

It would be worrying though if all the mercury from a landfill (most people are bound to just toss them in the trash) would reach groundwater. Would be a massive contamination which then could reach crops or drinking water.

Re:Not New News (3, Insightful)

Itninja (937614) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813082)

"If you smash one bulb then that is not too much of a hazard. However, if you broke five bulbs in a small unventilated room then you might be in short term danger."
Like when a heavy bag of groceries smashes an entire box of new CFL's in the backseat of the car while making a sudden stop? Good thing that can never happen...

Re:Not New News (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22813112)

the health implications

To the environment, dingus, not us.

Re:Not New News (1)

purpledinoz (573045) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813276)

I think this is a pretty big concern. We have been told to buy these bulbs, but really not instructed on how to safely dispose of them. Most people don't even know that there's anything dangerous inside these bulbs, and will probably throw them away without even knowing about it. This just damages our environment even further, regardless of how small it is. The first time I bought one of these, I noticed on the packaging that that they contained mercury. When one of them burned out, I was quite shocked that I could not find any information on where to dispose of it. This is a real failure with our government, which should force companies to somehow properly dispose of hazardous products. You can't expect companies to do it. Corporations are designed to make as much money as possible, so it's reasonable to expect that they will not incur the cost of disposal if they don't have to. I eventually took it to the hazardous waste disposal site, but I'm not even sure if they dispose of things properly.

LED lighting (1)

GrassIsRed (1181869) | more than 6 years ago | (#22812872)

I think LED lighting is really the future, no mercury in them. I have some LED lighting myself and while I found it to be too dim still and a bit too focused for lighting a whole room, I really like how LED emitted light looks. LEDs are also insanely efficient, I don't notice any heat at all even when I place my hand on them. And the problems I mentioned will surely be fixed as brighter LEDs are developed.

I'm dead (4, Funny)

stokessd (89903) | more than 6 years ago | (#22812880)

I played with mercury as a child. We used to rub dimes on it, and push it around on a desk and i our hands. I had like 5 pounds of the stuff in a bottle, enough co contaminate the solar system if ne CFB contaminates 1000 gallons of water.

So I'll be dying soon, anybody want to buy a low slashdot ID?

Sheldon

Tag this post: getoffmylawn

Re:I'm dead (2, Interesting)

Itninja (937614) | more than 6 years ago | (#22812922)

I learned in 6th grade chemistry that touching mercury is marginally safe, but injecting it was usually a death sentence. The stuff in those CF bulbs is in powder form, so I don't know where inhaling mercury come in on that scale....

Re:I'm dead (4, Informative)

cmowire (254489) | more than 6 years ago | (#22812972)

No, the mercury in a "bulb" is in liquid form..... well, liquid and vapor.

The powder in a CF "bulb" is the phosphor, which is toxic and hazardous in an entirely different way.

And, because basically the same stuff is in fluorescent bulbs and white LEDs, nobody wants to make a big deal out of it. :D

Oh, and injecting mercury is not that bad. Metallic mercury is not especially dangerous, especially because your body is already equipped to excrete a reasonable amount of it. Organic mercury compounds, on the other hand, are hideously unsafe and some of them are toxic in quantities as small as a spilled drop, largely because they have an easy time crossing cell walls.

Re:I'm dead (1)

Rod Beauvex (832040) | more than 6 years ago | (#22812998)

6th grade chemestry? We never touched chemistry in high school. And the world continues to pass us by.

Re:I'm dead (1)

SheldonYoung (25077) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813024)

No thank you.

Let me tell you, back in the day we kept beads of mercury in our pockets to tell the temperature. To cover the fumes I had an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time.

Sheldon

Re:I'm dead (2, Interesting)

Mike Zilva (785109) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813124)

I've also played just like you said, it was a realy misterious material, just like magnets ;)
I was about 12 years old kid and could buy about 100grams on a lab near by, and at that time I was planing to make an "inteligent" air joystick for my ZX-Spectrum computer.

I was planing to use a mercury bouble inside a plastic egg box (from bouble gums or so) with some metalic screws sticked around in the axis direction so this screws would have the mercury bouble closing the electric contact...

I did not complete the project, after this I got a commodore amiga and later an analog joystick.

But still played with mercury boubles in my hands for about a month or so.

I was tempted to put it in the mouth but was afraid it could be dangerous, so I didn't try (thanks god).

I don't think I have any health problem, but now I that know it was very dangerous, I'm courious what consequences it might had..

Today, I'm a very distracted person (always have been, even way before my first mercury contact:) and I also easily forget many things, but I guess google play a role in this (I always find what I need there:)

Take your mercury-foil hat off! (2, Informative)

mrbluze (1034940) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813128)

I played with mercury as a child. We used to rub dimes on it, and push it around on a desk and i our hands. I had like 5 pounds of the stuff in a bottle, enough co contaminate the solar system if ne CFB contaminates 1000 gallons of water.

It's not elemental mercury that does damage, but mercury that has been included into organic molecules by other organisms that you eat, such as fish (which in turn ate smaller animals with mercury and so concentrated the environmental mercury for your inconvenience). There was a lot of talk about the evils of mercury fillings but of all the millions of people who have them, practically none of them has ever had mercury poisoning as a result - but what is the cancer risk from having epoxy resin slowly degrading in your mouth?

There is an awful lot of FUD around the dangers of mercury and other heavy metals.

And just to demonstrate, I shall now drink this cup of mercury whilst reciting the first chapter of Alice in Wonderland backwards.

Lateral benefits (1)

Itninja (937614) | more than 6 years ago | (#22812886)

I have asked this of people in the know for years now, and no one has been able to give an educated answer why trading inefficient incandescents for toxic CF bulbs is such an awesome thing. I love CF bulbs but it's just because they last several times longer than my old 100-watters. But I have never broken one, so maybe I would feel differently once I powered my kids' room with mercury. If I could afford it, I would buy all LED 'bulbs' for my house. But they are still prohibitively expensive.

Re:Lateral benefits (2, Insightful)

A beautiful mind (821714) | more than 6 years ago | (#22812952)

Simple. Mercury in CFL < mercury which would be released to produce (incandescent - CFL) energy.

Re:Lateral benefits (1)

Itninja (937614) | more than 6 years ago | (#22812982)

Most (if not all) of my power comes from local hydroelectric dams. Is that still the case, in my case?

Re:Lateral benefits (1)

A beautiful mind (821714) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813066)

My original post only holds on a bigger scale. There are lots of coal power plants all over the world. If most of the world would be using nuclear power for their energy needs (which is the cleanest power source after fusion), then the realities would be different.

Re:Lateral benefits (1)

Moridineas (213502) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813274)

I think the issue is worse than you make it out to be. Compare a million households with dozens of bulbs each to a handful of electrical plants (be they hydro, nuclear, coal, whatever). Which is easier to make sure happens--that each of those million households properly disposes of each bulb, including broken bulbs, etc, or to control/cleanup emissions from a handful of tightly regulated sites?

Re:Lateral benefits (2, Informative)

Sangui5 (12317) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813330)

Electricity is fungible. If you use 1 kWh less of your local hydro power, then that 1 kWh will be transmitted to some place where they tend to use coal-fired plants. For instance, in the US, the Pacific DC Intertie (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacific_DC_Intertie) carries hydro power from Oregon all the way south to LA; and LA gets half of its power from coal. If not for that long-distance DC link, it would be using a lot more coal power.

Re:Lateral benefits (1)

cfulmer (3166) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813152)

You can buy incandescent bulbs with 20,000-hour lifespans. They're a bit more expensive, but really do last and in the long run are a lot cheaper than the 1- or 2- year bulbs you buy in the grocery store. When used in clear-bulb applications where you see the bulb, they also look better than the typical incandescents that you buy in the grocery store.

Not Just Mercrury (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22812888)

Hasn't anyone thought about the higher components count being less environmentally friendly either? It takes ressources and energy to make those components. If it takes more energy to be created than it saves, what's the point?

LED's should be better and I've seen some artists create very beautiful lamps that wouldn't be possible with compact fluorescent bulbs.

But Global Warming (1)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 6 years ago | (#22812890)

And here is the rub. We use these lights because of Global Warming. Whether or not GW is natural or man made is still debated (regardless of what Al Gore tells you) and largely unknown.

The threat from mercury is 100% real. Don't believe me? Ask you baby's doctor how much tuna your baby can have.

So, can someone tell me why we use these bulbs, which cause a REAL problem to combat something that is still unknown?

Re:But Global Warming (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22812978)

You are right.

Why do we use these bulbs? Few reasons include lobbyists, ECO/GREEN/GlobalWarming over reaction and deceptive advertising.

I'd like to see some LED lights in place.

Re:But Global Warming (2, Funny)

hunterx11 (778171) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813006)

Personally, I think the threat from mercury is a bunch of liberal hype. I'm not saying that it isn't dangerous, but let's wait until the science is all in before making this a political issue and conjuring all sorts of doomsday scenarios about "mercury in tuna" and such. Why is it that the media only covers the pro-"mercury is dangerous" side of the debate?

Re:But Global Warming (2)

snl2587 (1177409) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813190)

Personally, I think the threat from mercury is a bunch of liberal hype.

Does everything on /. always need to be a political debate?

"mercury in tuna" and such. Why is it that the media only covers the pro-"mercury is dangerous" side of the debate?

As opposed to the "mercury is safe" side? The bottom line is that while safe levels of mercury are still up for debate (though nearly all of the research indicate save level in terms of g/m3), we know that it is harmful, bioaccumulates (there's the fish problem), and is something that, like lead, should be kept out of commercial products as much as possible.

Re:But Global Warming (1)

babyrat (314371) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813278)

Why is it that the media only covers the pro-"mercury is dangerous" side of the debate?

Maybe because the research shows that that mercury IS dangerous?

Do you have any links to scientifically valid papers that indicate that mercury isn't dangerous?

Re:But Global Warming (1, Troll)

speaktruth (1082461) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813010)

Because what your doctor won't tell you is that exposure from a broken bulb (or some would argue that which is radiated throught the air by an unbroken bulb) is still less than the amount of mercury and other heavy metals being injected into that same baby through vaccination. And, of course the reason your doctor won't tell you this is actually the same reason we use these bulbs to combat climate change: follow the money........

Re:But Global Warming (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22813052)

Al Gore is a bitch, but you're one ugly, ignorant, motherfucker.

Re:But Global Warming (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22813108)

Because the amount of mercury released from burning the extra coal to power a very inefficient incandescent bulb is much more.

And global warming being not being man-made is only debated by those in denial or the fossil fuel industry.

Re:But Global Warming (1)

tirerim (1108567) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813160)

Because the amount of mercury released over the lifetime of a CFL is still less than the amount of mercury released in order to power conventional light bulbs for the same length of time. Here's a study (pdf) [rmi.org] .

For the link-phobic, here's the abstract:

Abstract
This paper addresses the debate over compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and incandescents through life-cycle analyses (LCA) conducted in the SimaPro1 life-cycle analysis program. It compares the environmental impacts of providing a given amount of light (approximately 1,600 lumens) from incandescents and CFLs for 10,000 hours. Special attention has been paid to recently raised concerns regarding CFLs--specifically that their complex manufacturing process uses so much energy that it outweighs the benefits of using CFLs, that turning CFLs on and off frequently eliminates their energy-efficiency benefits, and that they contain a large amount of mercury. The research shows that the efficiency benefits compensate for the added complexity in manufacturing, that while rapid on-off cycling of the lamp does reduce the environmental (and payback) benefits of CFLs they remain a net "win," and that the mercury emitted over a CFL's life--by power plants to power the CFL and by leakage on disposal--is still less than the mercury that can be attributed to powering the incandescent.

Re:But Global Warming (1)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813196)

This paper addresses the debate over compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and incandescents through life-cycle analyses (LCA) conducted in the SimaPro1 life-cycle analysis program. It compares the environmental impacts of providing a given amount of light (approximately 1,600 lumens) from incandescents and CFLs for 10,000 hours. Special attention has been paid to recently raised concerns regarding CFLs--specifically that their complex manufacturing process uses so much energy that it outweighs the benefits of using CFLs, that turning CFLs on and off frequently eliminates their energy-efficiency benefits, and that they contain a large amount of mercury. The research shows that the efficiency benefits compensate for the added complexity in manufacturing, that while rapid on-off cycling of the lamp does reduce the environmental (and payback) benefits of CFLs they remain a net "win," and that the mercury emitted over a CFL's life--by power plants to power the CFL and by leakage on disposal--is still less than the mercury that can be attributed to powering the incandescent.
Of course, that assumes that all power plants are coal powered plants that do not attempt reclaim mercury. I guess nuclear and gas fired plants don't exist.

Even if every CFL gets smashed open and landfilled (3, Informative)

Ellis D. Tripp (755736) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813166)

, they will STILL reduce the overall mercury emission into the environment over their lifetime, compared to equivalent incandescent bulbs.

Mercury (and uranium!) is present in the smokestack emissions from coal-burning powerplants. By reducing the amount of electricity used, CFLs actually reduce overall mercury emissions. And since the mercury they do contain is in a sealed glass tube (as opposed to being spewed into the atmosphere and settling out onto the ground), their toxic content is easily managed through recycling efforts.

Re:But Global Warming (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22813172)

Basically, it's because the effects of GW are way too threatening to be ignored. Erring on the side of caution is considered good engineering practice once you're outside the field of software engineering.

You have a choice: the blue pill or the red pill. Taking none will kill you. The red pill will give you a slight headache for the rest of your life, but will increase your life expectancy by 10-15 years. The blue pill, on the other hand, is an experimental drug. It might save your life, but it could just as well kill you and eat your dog...

Must assess magnitude of the risk (1)

Geof (153857) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813192)

It's not enough to say the dangers of mercury are certain but the environmental benefit is not. You need to assess the magnitude of the risk. I understand that the consequences of global warming could be catastrophic. The overall dangers of widespread CFL bulbs use are relatively insignificant. It's an expected value calculation: probability times magnitude.

Re:But Global Warming (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22813212)

First, I will overlook the nonsense about GW.

Second, why to use CFL? BECAUSE of mercury. The vast majority of power plants in the world ARE coal plants. If you burn the CFL for an average 1 year period AND you break the bulb outside of your house, you will still have introduced less mercury into the atmosphere than had you used the best incandescent over that time. Why? Because even Western American coal has a lot of mercury, and that is considered some of the cleanest coal in the world. Burn Eastern American or worst of all, most seams in Chinese coal and the mercury content is ENORMOUS. So, if you want to lower the total mercury in the air and environment, then use the CFL. If you are concerned about a mercury bulb breaking in your home, do not use them in places prone to breakage. For example, do not put it in a lamp that can be tipped. Likewise, do not use them around the mirrors in the bathroom or the garages. AND most of ALL, do not put them in the kids rooms. If there is a breakage, you must ventilate the house for a while AFTER the clean-up.

If you are still concerned about the mercury in your home AND want to lower your OVERALL energy bill, then get some LED lights. They will pay for themselves over a 1-2 year period, though hard to believe with a $1/watt bulb. Of course, like CFL, the light takes getting use to. I wanted to replace some halogen hockey pucks (10 watts each) in our kitchen with led pucks (2.5 watt), and the wife said not a chance after seeing it in action. Funny thing is that the leds was actually brighter. But, happy wife, happy life (of course, that statement ignores sociopathic ex's :) ).

Re:But Global Warming (1)

pauljlucas (529435) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813246)

Whether or not GW is natural or man made is still debated ... and largely unknown.
The Earth has never -- in its entire history -- warmed so much so fast. The only people who refuse to accept reality and continue to claim there's still scientific (as opposed to political) debate still going on are (1) those whose pockets are lined by Big Business for whom it would either be costly to make their facilities carbon-neutral or shut them down entirely and (2) those who naively believe in the infallibility of their political leaders (who are in group 1).

Of course there's probably a high correlation between those in group 2 and those who believe the Earth is only a few thousand years old, that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time, and who believe that their god would never give them an imperfect planet whose environment could become hostile to human life, or, if it did, it would mean that the Rapture is at hand. Some of these people actually want to hasten the destruction of the Earth because they think it will hasten the Rapture. These people scare me more than terrorists.

Probably the biggest mistake (3, Interesting)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#22812892)

is not requiring the stores that push CFL to set up a recycle system. Home Depot and Walmart are busy pushing cheap bulbs from GE/China. They claim that they will last 5-7 years. Half of mine have burned out within 3 years. I have 8 bulbs waiting to recycle. Worse, I saw a GE/Made in China bulb catch on fire. I now buy Phillips/made in mexico only bulbs, but it does not solve the problem of mercury recycle.

Same old story (2, Informative)

sdeering (910208) | more than 6 years ago | (#22812898)

I wish this story would go away. Mercury is released by burning coal for electricity, and the total amount released to the environment is much greater with conventional bulbs.

Re:Same old story (1)

fred fleenblat (463628) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813046)

yeah, but the CFL's wind up in landfills, where they can easily contaminate drinking water.

It has gotta go somewhere even via coal burning (1)

geek2k5 (882748) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813118)

If the mercury contamination from coal burning is going into the air, then it is also ending up in our drinking water, plus lots of other places.

Re:Same old story (1)

0xABADC0DA (867955) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813048)

So... don't burn coal for power and don't use compact fluorescents. When did two wrongs become a right?

Re:Same old story (2, Insightful)

proxima (165692) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813228)

So... don't burn coal for power and don't use compact fluorescents. When did two wrongs become a right?

It's not a matter of two wrongs, it's a matter of tradeoffs (as with most things). I'm a big fan of non-coal power (including nuclear), but the existing coal plants aren't going to go away any time soon, and we seem to keep building more around the world.

For most people, artificial light is a necessity. These days, they have a choice between incandescents, CFLs/fluorescents, halogen, and maybe a few LED options. CFLs are much more efficient than incandescents or halogens. LED lights are still somewhat expensive. If you use a CFL, don't recycle it, and its total mercury emissions are less than the emissions from the power plants used to produce the extra electricity required to power an incandescent, it's clearly better to go with the CFL.

Of course, the best thing to do from an environmental perspective is to simply recycle your bulbs. I've mentioned this before on /.; there are a number of household items that we need to dispose of properly. Things like CRT monitors/TVs, large or lithium-ion batteries, etc. The easiest thing to do is to set all these items aside until they build up a bit, and then cart them off to the nearest recycling center. For me, that's just across town, but I'm lucky in that regard.

Being a rational environmentally-conscious person means that you should take actions which require the least expense (in terms of both time and money) which cause energy/pollution reductions in the greatest quantity. That's why Blackle [blackle.com] is a total waste of time (500,000 watt hours saved over all of its users? We're talking $50 in electricity at $0.10/kWH...).

Re:Same old story (1)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813272)

Because I don't own my own coal power plant. I do, however, own lighbulbs. As a result, I can control how much Mercury goes into the air when a CFL breaks, but not how much Mercury goes in the air from a coal-powered power plant. Ergo, my best course of action is to use CFLs.

Re:Same old story (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22813220)

Here in Washington state we don't burn much coal so all those CFLs do not save us from mercury pollution.

Migraine etc. (3, Interesting)

glavenoid (636808) | more than 6 years ago | (#22812942)

For one thing, some of us have light-induced migraines. Fluorescent-lights are often a contributing factor. Whether it's the light spectrum output, the AC frequency, or some placebo, whatever, in *my* case, fluorescent lights seem to be a *major* contributing factor. I'm all for efficiency, but this case, Incandescent light is one of the few things that I have a hard time letting go. I *need* incandescent light in order to make my living... Nary that, just to survive.

Re:Migraine etc. (1)

arodland (127775) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813298)

It's not the AC frequency one. Household CFLs invariably have schnazzy electronic ballasts that operate way up in the tens-of-kHz range. They have less perceptible flicker than incandescents. And GE's bog-standard (not daylight) CFLs produce a color that I can't tell from incandescents, and my camera nearly can't. (I find the daylight ones to be excessively blue -- maybe it's just a contrast effect and I wouldn't notice if I replaced all of my bulbs, but I'm not really inclined.) Maybe your adverse reaction is caused by a fatal brain cloud.

The Future (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22812948)

When are people going to realize that LEDs are the way of the future. Low power, safe, and affordable.

Re:The Future (2, Interesting)

Itchyeyes (908311) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813106)

Probably as soon as someone can mass produce an LED lightbulb that is affordable, long lasting, and produces natural looking light in large quantities. As of right now LED's are generally efficient and long lasting, but have an unnatural blue hue to them which turns a lot of people off. A lot of people realize that LED's are the future, the future just isn't here yet.

Other home dangers! (5, Insightful)

lancejjj (924211) | more than 6 years ago | (#22812956)

There's a much more substantial danger with asbestos. cigarette smoke. CO from your furnace, or from your attached garage. Radon. Electricity from the wall socket. And lead paint. These things seriously injure or kill thousands per year.

And now you tell me that mercury from my breaking-lightbulbs spree will kill my family tree? Good God!

The amount of mercury in a modern lightbulb is thousands of times less than what is found in a mercury thermometer or a thermostat. And let's not even begin to discuss the amount of mercury within traditional fluorescent bulbs and the amalgam in some fillings.

Re:Other home dangers! (1)

pokerdad (1124121) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813142)

The amount of mercury in a modern lightbulb is thousands of times less than what is found in a mercury thermometer or a thermostat.

People buy more lights (than thermometers), wear them out more quickly and break them more frequently.

Since switching to CF lights four years ago I have broken three and had to replace every one at least once for burning out (far shy of their reported lifespans). I have never in my lifetime broken or disposed of a mercury thermometer.

(I find it interesting that you mention mercury being used in thermostats; every home I have ever lived in used metal coil thermometers; I guess its where you live)

I don't get it (4, Funny)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 6 years ago | (#22812964)

Questions Arising On Mercury In Compact Fluorescents
What does Compact Florescent bulbs have to do with the planet Mercury?

Re:I don't get it (1)

davidc (91400) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813028)

I can't answer that, but it's a good thing Mercury is a long way from Uranus.

Hatchet Job (3, Informative)

truesaer (135079) | more than 6 years ago | (#22812970)

If you notice, this article was written by a bunch of NBC affiliates...basically one of those sensationalist stories "The Investigators" or whatever your local station calls their guys create.


The article barely mentioned the real facts. The power production for regular light bulbs over the lifespan of a CFL generates 2-3x as much mercury as is in the CFL. They are just fine.


Now it is a bit of a problem right now finding a place that will recycle them. Ikea is doing it, and Walmart is thinking of rolling out recycling bins in their stores. But industry needs a lot more motivation to start taking these back. Ideally most municipal recycling programs would allow the bulbs to be placed in their bins (maybe in cardboard protectors or something. A decent article would have focused on this aspect of the story, and it was again just mentioned in passing.

What about the mercury in coal? (1)

leoxx (992) | more than 6 years ago | (#22812974)

Perhaps I missed it, but where in the article do they discuss the massive amount of mercury [hgtech.com] emitted by coal burning power plants?

HAHA (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22813012)

Did you read about the lady in liberal Massachusetts who broke one in her bedroom? The liberal government turned her house into a superfund site.

A little mercury is no big deal. Its only because our regulations have become so hysterical that you can use a headline like "contaminates 1000 gallons of water". Really? What is it, a milligram of mercury?

Hyper-sensitive fools running the government doing more harm than good. Hardcore liberal government types attacking liberal minded housewives.

And slashdot under full control of the enviro-hysteria agenda. Its getting downright crazy out there. This site is for feebs.

Re:HAHA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22813174)

Thanks for the thinking-impaired redeck troll perspective. You may want to go here [foxnews.com] for all your 'information' needs from now on.

Re:HAHA (-1, Troll)

Goliath (101288) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813186)

Liberal.

Good, CFLs suck anyhow (1)

ArchieBunker (132337) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813032)

I honestly tried to like CFL bulbs. My first thought was how they take a full minute to achieve maximum brightness. Unacceptable. My vacuum tube amplifier only takes 10 seconds to heat up. The biggest gripe is the color temperature. you have a choice of sickly yellow and pure LED white. Neither look like sunlight or GE Reveal bulbs. I bought a two pack of "instant on" CFL bulbs for my bathroom and one went bad days later. It would only flicker and never fully light. 8 bucks wasted right there.

Good grief (4, Insightful)

Itchyeyes (908311) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813042)

Honestly, this is my biggest problem with the environmental movement in the US today, it's never satisfied with even the slightest amount of progress. Fossil fuels are unacceptable because they pollute, but so is wind power because it interferes with migration paths. Incandescent bulbs are inefficient but we can't use CFL's because they contain mercury. We want the fuel efficiency that diesel engines already offer but we can't buy them in the US because of sulfur emission regulation. Everything has trade-offs. Sometimes you just have to pick the lesser of the two evils and go with it.

Look overhead (4, Interesting)

geek2k5 (882748) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813084)

If you are in an office or school, look overhead and determine what type of lighting you have. There are a lot of places where it is fluorescent lighting in the long tube format.


Said tubes also contain mercury. But few, if any people, seem to consider these as part of the mercury contamination controversy.


If these tubes aren't a problem because they are disposed of properly, couldn't the CFLs be put into the same disposal chain?


And if the tubes ARE a problem because of improper disposal, shouldn't they also be mentioned along with the CFLs?

Illegal in California to dispose? (2, Insightful)

Bryansix (761547) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813086)

That's news to me. I'm sure it is but you can't just write a law like that and then put it on display in a locked cabinet in some basement somewhere with a broken sewer line. You actually have to advertise it. The funny thing is I have a broken CFL in my house right now. I have it because my wife accidentally knocked it off the shelf and the packaging while shear resistant doesn't pad the bulbs at all so it broke. Since she broke it, she bought it. So now how exactly am I supposed to deal with that?! I doubt even the hazerdous waste place will take a broken bulb.

What the article forgets... (2, Interesting)

Khyber (864651) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813150)

... is that the percentage of mercury in a CFL bulb is likely NEVER to make it into the water table unless they pump from the very very bottom of the water table/tank. Mercury is so heavy it automatically sinkss to the bottom of whatever is storing it with water. Memphis Light, Gas, and Water (mlgw.com) has noted this in their water treatment plants for YEARS when concern about their aquifers and mercury hit the news. It's a non-issue for the most part unless the water pumps hit so far at the bottom that they suck up mercury. This is why Memphis has some of the best aquifer water there is on the planet.

Law of unintended consequences again (1)

jmorris42 (1458) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813180)

From Congresscritters all the way down to Walmart, everybody jumped on the CFL bandwagon to appease the greens. Nobody cared about discussing consequences then, it was all about shutting up the greens and being able to put a little halo on yer head and tell everybody how much better you were because YOU cared about 'saving the earth.'

But there ain't no hollow earth, no happy ever after and no free lunch. Everything is a balance, a trade off. Yes CFLs save energy, but there were lots of reasons why they weren't flying off store shelves. But none of that mattered, if people wouldn't rationally make the choices greens thought they should be then there was obviously something wrong with 'ordinary people' and the government would just have to make the 'right' decision for em and outlaw incandescent bulbs. And the lesson we can now take is that trying to appease greens will never work, because we aren't even a year out from their great 'success' in forcing CFLs down our throats and they are pissed all over again.

Do the math (5, Informative)

goodmanj (234846) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813208)

Ladies and gentlemen, a bit of math.
Amount of mercury in 1 CFL light bulb: 5 milligrams (source: TFA)

Amount of energy saved by using a CFL bulb instead of incandescent, over the lifetime of the CFL:
10,000 hours * 75 watts * 75% energy savings = 0.6 megawatt-hours
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compact_fluorescent_lamp#Lifespan)

Fraction of that energy that would be generated by coal-fired power plants: about 50%.
(http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epa/epat1p1.html)

Coal power plant energy savings: 0.3 megawatt-hours

Annual emission of mercury by US coal-fired power plants: 48 tons/year in 1999
(http://www.nescaum.org/documents/rpt031104mercury.pdf)
Power output of US coal-fired power plants: 1,900,000 gigawatt-hours in 1999 (about the same today)

Mercury emitted by coal plants: 48 tons / 19000000 GWh = 23 milligrams per megawatt-hour

Power-plant mercury emissions avoided by using a CFL bulb over its lifetime:
7 milligrams

So it's a wash. The amount of mercury in the bulb is roughly the same as what would be emitted by a coal-burning power plant, if you stuck with incandescent bulbs.

But the mercury in a CFL bulb is a lot easier to clean up than the stuff spewed into the atmosphere by power plants.

Re:Do the math (1)

DoktorSeven (628331) | more than 6 years ago | (#22813316)

Amount of mercury from a clean energy plant: 0
Amount of change possible: 100%

Amount of change possible in a CFL: 0%

The argument doesn't work. You can always change an energy source to be cleaner.

I'm so happy there's a backlash. I cannot stand how they look, their humming, and the mercury in every one. It's criminal that we are changing technology for the worse these days.

Incandesents are more friendly to the environment (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22813214)

I buy incandescent. They are more environmentally friendly. Don't contain mercury, don't contain PCBs, take less material and energy to create, I could go on.

I use this same argument for the all the morons dumping their newish ~30MPG cars for a Prius or other hybrid. My 1990 Honda Accord that still gets ~30MPG is more friendly to the environment if I just continue to drive it until it stops work, than if I were to sell it off and get a Prius. Thus creating demand to expend more energy and materials to create another car that also contains many more nasty unevironmentally friendly toxins than my 18 year old commuter.

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