Certain types of energy-saving light bulbs can be dangerous if not handled and used properly. In particular, compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs pose a potential health danger. The dangers that are known about these bulbs relate to the mercury content found inside the bulbs.
Energy-saving light bulbs, as their name suggests, use less energy than traditional light bulbs and have a longer lifespan than other types of light bulbs. CFL bulbs, for example, last around 10,000 hours and a bulb that puts out around 60 watts of light uses about 14 watts of electricity.
The mercury present in fluorescent light bulbs is required to initiate a reaction that in turn produces light. When electrical currents are applied, the mercury vapor becomes energized and puts out UV (ultra violet) energy. This energy is absorbed by a phosphor coating on the inside of the glass tube. The phosphor then puts out visible light.
The mercury level in most energy-efficient light bulbs is low; some estimates put it at around 5mg of mercury per light bulb. Depending on the size and power of the light bulb, the levels may be slightly lower or higher.
The mercury is safely contained inside the glass tube of the light. However, if the light bulb is broken, the mercury vapors can leak out. The mercury can come into contact with one's skin or be breathed in, which can cause potential mercury poisoning in high amounts. The mercury can also become exposed to bedding, clothing and carpeting, where it can remain embedded.
If a bulb breaks in your home you should open the windows to air out the room. Use duct tape to pick up the pieces of the glass and mercury residue off the floors and carpets. Dispose of any bedding or clothing that comes into direct contact with the glass. Do not directly touch the glass or affected areas. Double-bag the fragments in plastic and remove them from the home.
One concern about the dangers of energy-saving light bulbs is the environmental effect. Even if the bulb does not break during use, the bulb has a high potential to crack or shatter when it is being handled in waste facilities. The mercury can be exposed to workers and also can seep into ground water and the soil.
Use care when handling CFL light bulbs. When removing bulbs, be careful not to squeeze the tubing or pull on the bulb.
Contact your local waste management office to see if they offer safe recycling or disposal of mercury-containing products. If no other option is available, seal the bulbs in two or more plastic bags before disposing of them.
Light-emitting diode (LED) light technology, while expensive, can be a good alternative to CFL energy-efficient light bulbs. They do not contain mercury, are less likely to break and can last six times as long as CFL light bulbs, while using less energy.
- Photo Credit Lcarsdata/Creative Commons: Common Energy-Saving Light Bulb Turned On.
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