February 10th, 2011
By: David Gutierrez
If broken indoors, compact fluorescent (CF) light bulbs release 20 times the maximum acceptable mercury concentration into the air, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Fraunhofer Wilhelm Klauditz Institute for German’s Federal Environment Agency.
CF bulbs use only 20 percent as much energy as traditional incandescent bulbs and have become highly popular among consumers seeking to reduce both their energy bills and their climate footprints. The European Union has already begun to implement a phase out of incandescent bulbs.
Unlike incandescent bulbs, halogen bulbs or LED bulbs, however, CF bulbs are made with mercury, a potent neurotoxin that is especially dangerous to children and pregnant women. For the new study, the researchers tested a worst case scenario for two different CF bulbs that lacked a protective casing. Both bulbs were broken indoors when hot. One bulb contained 2 milligrams of mercury, while the other contained 5 milligrams.
When broken, the bulbs released roughly 7 micrograms of mercury into the air, 20 times the British government’s recommended maximum exposure of 0.35 micrograms. Mercury levels remained elevated at floor levels for up to five hours after breakage.
There is no safe level of exposure to mercury.
“The presence of mercury is the downside to energy-saving lamps,” said Federal Environment Agency president Jochen Flasbarth. “We need a lamp technology that can prevent mercury pollution soon. ‘The positive and necessary energy savings of up to 80 per cent as compared with light bulbs must go hand in hand with a safe product that poses no risks to health.”
If a CF bulb breaks, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends that you shut off all central air or heating and then ventilate and evacuate the room for 10 minutes. The bulb should then be cleaned up, such as with a damp cloth, and placed into a sealable container. The debris should be placed outside until it can be taken to a hazardous waste disposal facility.
All CF bulbs should be disposed of as hazardous waste, never in household trash.
December 27th, 2010
By: David Derbyshire
Energy-saving light bulbs were at the centre of a fresh health scare last night after researchers claimed they can release potentially harmful amounts of mercury if broken.
Levels of toxic vapour around smashed eco-bulbs were up to 20 times higher than the safe guideline limit for an indoor area, the study said.
It added that broken bulbs posed a potential health risk to pregnant women, babies and small children.
The concerns surround ‘compact fluorescent lamps’ (CFLs), the most common type of eco-bulb in Britain, which are mini-versions of the strip lights found in offices.
The European Union is phasing out the traditional ‘incandescent bulbs’ used for more than 120 years and is forcing people to switch to low-energy alternatives to meet its climate change targets.
A CFL uses a fifth of the energy of a conventional bulb and can save £7 a year in bills. However, critics complain that CFLs’ light is harsh and flickery. Medical charities say they can trigger epileptic fits, migraines and skin rashes and have called for an ‘opt out’ for vulnerable people.
Incandescent bulbs do not contain mercury, along with other variants of energy-saving lights, such as LEDs and halogen bulbs. The study, for Germany’s Federal Environment Agency, tested a ‘worst case’ scenario using two CFLs, one containing 2 milligrams of mercury and the other 5 milligrams. Neither lamp had a protective casing and both were broken when hot.
Scientists at the Fraunhofer Wilhelm Klauditz Institute found that they released around 7 micrograms (there are 1,000 micrograms in a milligram) per cubic metre of air.The official guideline limit is 0.35 micrograms per cubic metre.
Federal Environment Agency president Jochen Flasbarth said: ‘The presence of mercury is the downside to energy-saving lamps. We need a lamp technology that can prevent mercury pollution soon.
‘The positive and necessary energy savings of up to 80 per cent as compared with light bulbs must go hand in hand with a safe product that poses no risks to health.’
During tests the German government agency’s researchers were alarmed to discover that some bulbs had no protective cover and broke when hot.
High levels of mercury were measured at floor level up to five hours after the bulbs failed.
A spokesman for the agency said: ‘Children and expectant mothers should keep away from burst energy-saving lamps.
‘For children’s rooms and other areas at higher risk of lamp breakage, we recommend the use of energy-saving lamps that are protected against breakage.’ However, the UK Government insisted the CFL bulbs were safe – and that the risk from a one-off exposure was minimal.
The Health Protection Agency says a broken CFL is unlikely to cause health problems. However, it advises people to ventilate a room where a light has smashed and evacuate it for 15 minutes.
Householders are also advised to wear protective gloves while wiping the area of the break with a damp cloth and picking up fragments of glass. The cloth and glass should be placed in a plastic bag and sealed.
CFLs are not supposed to be put in the dustbin, whether broken or intact, but taken as hazardous waste to a recycling centre.
A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: ‘Guidance from the Health Protection Agency makes it clear that the mercury contained in low energy bulbs does not pose a health risk to anyone immediately exposed, should one be broken.’
Friends of the Earth said the switch to low-energy bulbs would reduce exposure to mercury from coal-fired power stations.