Pricey compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are even more dangerous -- and make even less economic sense -- than previously thought. They're fire hazards and mercury's just the tip of their toxic iceberg.And so on.
Edmund Contoski reports for the American Thinker that Telstar- and Electra-brand CFLs were recalled on May 12 as overheating fire hazards. And he notes that cleaning up after CFLs flame out usually breaks environmental regulations.
I was curious what a real science magazine had to say about CFLs. In 2007 Popular Mechanics did a side by side comparison between CFLs and the incandescent bulb. Know what they found? That's right:
The results surprised us. Even though the incandescent bulb measured slightly brighter than the equivalent CFLs, our subjects didn't see any dramatic difference in brightness. And here was the real shocker: When it came to the overall quality of the light, all the CFLs scored higher than our incandescent control bulb. In other words, the new fluorescent bulbs aren't just better for both your wallet and the environment, they produce better light.Then they alsopublished this "reality check" regarding the newer better lightbulbs. Some highlights. On the safety of the mercury:
How much mercury is contained in a CFL?On the energy savings by using a CFL:
Each bulb contains an average of 5 milligrams of mercury, “which is just enough to cover a ballpoint pen tip,” says Leslie, associate director of the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer. “Though it’s nothing to laugh at, unless you wipe up mercury [without gloves] and then lick your hand, you’re probably going to be okay.”
How much of a difference can CFLs really make?But the big concern about CFLs revolves around the mercury used in them. And to that issue Popular Mechanics points out:
According to EnergyStar—a program run by the Environmental Protection Agency—if each U.S. home replaced just one of its incandescent bulbs with a CFL, the electricity saved each year could light 3 million homes and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equal to that of 800,000 cars.
How much mercury do power plants emit to light a CFL?So let's see. A real science journal vs a political opinion magazine. Where would you get your science?
About 50 percent of the electricity produced in the U.S. is generated by coal-fired power plants. When coal burns to produce electricity, mercury naturally contained in the coal releases into the air. In 2006, coal-fired power plants produced 1,971 billion kilowatt hours (kwh) of electricity, emitting 50.7 tons of mercury into the air—the equivalent amount of mercury contained in more than 9 billion CFLs (the bulbs emit zero mercury when in use or being handled).
Approximately 0.0234 mg of mercury—plus carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide—releases into the air per 1 kwh of electricity that a coal-fired power plant generates. Over the 7500-hour average range of one CFL, then, a plant will emit 13.16 mg of mercury to sustain a 75-watt incandescent bulb but only 3.51 mg of mercury to sustain a 20-watt CFL (the lightning equivalent of a 75-watt traditional bulb). Even if the mercury contained in a CFL was directly released into the atmosphere, an incandescent would still contribute 4.65 more milligrams of mercury into the environment over its lifetime.
To hear the chicken littles at the Trib describe it, a CFL packs enough plutonium to kill each and everyone of us twelve times over. Here's the Guv'ment's cleanup guidelines for CFLs.