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Dear Willie: I’ve read that compact fluorescent bulbs are better for the environment because they use less energy. But I’ve also read that they contain mercury. Are they really safe to use?
---Wilma

Dear Wilma:

Compact Fluorescent light bulbs, known as CFLs, use up to 75 percent less energy than traditional incandescent light bulbs and last up to 10 times longer. They are really a great way to save energy and your co-op encourages members to replace bulbs as needed with CFLs.

Though the bulbs do indeed contain mercury, it’s a very minimal amount, about 5 milligrams. To give a point of reference, mercury thermometers contain 500 milligrams and older thermostats contained 3,000 milligrams. Also, consider that coal-fired power plants naturally produce mercury and will emit about 10 milligrams of mercury to power a traditional incandescent bulb and only 2.4 milligrams to run a CFL for the same time period.

How to dispose of a CFL:

Because they do contain mercury, you should be careful when disposing of burned out or broken CFLs.

Place burned out bulbs you’re replacing in a sealed plastic bag and dispose of in your regular trash. If you’re lucky enough to have a local household hazardous waste collection site that accepts the bulbs, you can take them there. These sites are becoming more common as CFLs gain in popularity. Call 877-earth-911 or visit www.earth911.com or www.epa.gov/bulbrecycling to see if there is a collection site near you. Don’t place burned out bulbs in an incinerator or burn barrel.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there is no immediate health risk to you if a bulb breaks and you clean it up properly. Here’s what to do: open a window if you can; use a damp paper towel to pick up broken pieces and stray shards or particles; place the towel and pieces in a sealed plastic bag and dispose of as I described above. Don’t use a vacuum cleaner or your bare hands to handle the materials.

 

Have a question for Willie Wiredhand? Email aiecinfo@aiec.coop.

© 2008 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

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