Many consumers in the dark about dangers of CFL bulbs

Mercury-laced CFL bulbs could expose consumers to a potential health hazard.

The is the first in a multi-part series of articles exposing the lies and misinformation behind legislation mandating the replacement of incandescent light bulbs with potentially unsafe compact florescent light (CFL) bulbs.

Many consumers in the dark about dangers of CFL bulbs

By Kirk Myers

Mercury-laced CFL bulbs could expose consumers to a potential health hazard. Credits:

Most consumers by now are aware of a federal law mandating the phased transition from incandescent light bulbs to controversial mercury-activated compact florescent light (CFL) bulbs, starting this year.

According to provisions of legislation passed by congress in 2007, the 100-watt incandescent bulb was to be off the shelves this January, followed by a phase-out of the 75-watt version in January 2013 and the 60- and 40-watt versions in January 2014. But last month congress granted consumers a reprieve by including in its spending bill a measure delaying enforcement of the ban until the end of the 2012.

Mercury – a deadly neurotoxin

From the time it was first proposed, the ban has run into opposition from consumers who are understandably concerned about outfitting their home light fixtures with bulbs containing, on average, 5 milligrams of mercury, enough to contaminate 6,000 gallons of water. Mercury is one of the most deadly neurotoxins on the planet.

According to, “Breaking a single CFL bulb in a room can result in mercury vapor levels 300 times in excess of what the EPA has established as safe for prolonged exposure. Serious health effects are associated with mercury exposure. Unborn and young children, elderly and those with weakened health are particularly vulnerable.”

The EPA continues to downplay safety concerns, but urges consumers to follow these safety precautions if a bulb is broken:

  • Open a window and ventilate the area for 15 minutes
  • Avoid vacuuming the area (to prevent the spread of mercury dust)
  • Use cardboard, not a broom, to sweep up the remains of the bulb
  • While wearing rubber globes use a wet paper towel to wipe the area
  • Seal the contents in a jar with a lid or plastic bag for disposal

“If clothing or bedding materials come into direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powers from inside the bulb that may stick to the fabric, the clothing or bedding should be thrown away,” the EPA recommends.

The EPA claims the amount of mercury in a single bulb is not enough to create a health hazard. But according to test data released in December 2010 by Germany’s Federal Environment Agency (UBA), mercury levels from broken CFLs were 20 times higher than regulations allow in the surrounding air for up to five hours after breakage.

The American Thinker reports: “Based on a new method to measure mercury from broken CFLs, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection reports that only one-third of the mercury release occurs during the first 8 hours after breakage. During the following two-week period, 17 percent to 40 percent of the mercury is released into the air.”

In a report last March, Fox News exposed the potentially dangerous health hazards of mercury-laced CFL bulbs:

“Mercury . . . is a potent, developmental neurotoxin that can damage the brain, liver, kidneys and central nervous system. Infants and young children are particularly vulnerable to mercury’s toxic effects. Even at low levels, mercury is capable of causing a number of health problems including impaired motor functioning, cognitive ability and emotional problems. Higher or prolonged exposure can result in much more serious health problems.”

Mercury Instruments, a Littleton, Colo., firm that specializes in removing mercury contamination, states the following on its Web site:

“If you break a “CFL” Compact Fluorescent light bulb and attempt to clean it up yourself, there is absolutely no way to know that you have removed the mercury unless you screen the area with a mercury vapor monitor . . . Without the proper equipment, equipment you will never be able to locate where the mercury came to rest.”

Concerned about mercury contamination, many environmental agencies have adopted strict regulations for the disposal and recycling of CFLs. In California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin, it is illegal to improperly dispose of florescent bulbs in trash or landfills. Consumers face stiff fines if they violate the law.

Investigate Magazine says this about broken CFLs: “The real cost is not one broken light bulb, but how badly affected homes will be after 20 years of amateur attempts to clean up one of the deadliest neurotoxins on the planet.”

Mercury vapors – another health hazard?

Toxic mercury from broken bulbs might not be the only danger posed by CFL lamps. During tests last year at Berlin’s Ala Laboratory, scientists discovered that various carcinogenic chemicals and toxins, including phenol, naphthalene and styrene, are released when CFL are switched on.

Environmental experts in Britain have downplayed the findings, insisting that CFLs are not a danger to the public and that more studies are needed to back up the German research.

But Peter Braun, who carried out the tests at the lab, claims that CFL lamps emit poisonous vapors when turned on and “should not be used in unventilated areas and definitely not in the proximity of the head.”

This report comes on the heals of research by Israel’s Haifa University suggesting that the CFL’s bluer light emissions, which closely mimic daylight, might interfere with the production of the hormone melatonin, contributing to higher rates of breast cancer.

In addition, the Migraine Action Association is warning that CFLs could trigger migraine headaches, “and skin care specialists have claimed that their intense light could exacerbate a range of existing skin problems,” according to a report in London’s Daily Telegraph.

Consumer anger

Many consumers are fuming over what they see as government meddling and are stocking up on incandescent light bulbs before the ban goes into effect. Judging from the pointed buyer comments on, the legislators who voted for the ban might want to update their resumes.

“You can pry my 100 watt incandescent from my cold dead hand (all apologies to Charlton Heston),” says Dukesuxheelrule. “Only a liberal green weenie would replace a perfectly safe tool of illumination with a much more expensive, lower quality, and highly hazardous product.”

Jeddy3 chimes in: “Every time the do-gooder nanny state shoves something down our throat “for our own good,” you can bet it’ll be found later that it wasn’t safer/better after all. If it were better, safer, or more economical, it wouldn’t be necessary to legislate its competition out of business.”

Another incensed buyer bashes the Green movement and defends freedom of choice:

“They [the incandescent bulbs] work well, shine bright, and – best of all – make me feel constantly proud to be screwing the eco-nazis,” said ahtimsa1970. “Screw you, Al Gore! Keep your hands off my thermostat, light bulbs and recycling bins. I worked hard for my money; I’ll spend it however I choose.”

During a recent appearance on Fox News, Marc Marano, the founder of the Web site Climate Depot, described the ban as an assault on consumer choice carried out by global warming alarmists and their allies on Capitol Hill.

“The only reason we’re talking about incandescent bulbs is because of fears of global warming. They’re trying . . . to control every aspect of our lives.”

As one critic quipped, “We know why GE dropped the ‘We bring good things to life’ slogan.”

27 thoughts on “Many consumers in the dark about dangers of CFL bulbs”

  1. This article is out of date, since the CFL light bulbs are now old technology that is going to be phased out to be replaced with recently discovered LED DIODES. Like as the ones on all the electronics and computers … but more efficient. So efficient that even street lighting is going to be LED DIODES too. So we will soon nolonger have these potentially hazardous CFL bulbs to have to worry about. LEDS are super clean and super efficient.

    • Completely agree. CFL will likely also pass by the wayside very quickly. LEDs are the way to go. Pricing has to come down a bit but they will leave CFLs in the dust. They will also be much much better than incandescents ever were. That is what I meant earlier. Lets not all get bent out of shape because some primitive technology is being trumped. I don’t particularly like government mandates BUT if the government has to give a nudge to get “dinosaur” technology such as the incandescent out of the way I don’t see a problem.

      • kevin, you don’t see a problem with the government “nudging” us because the government didn’t “nudge.” They pushed and shoved and rammed the CFLs down our throats. Tell me, does Weed grow better under incandescent, compact fluorescent, or LED lighting?

  2. What probably bothers me the most about fluorescent lights of any type, and the compacts are worst of all, is that the “light” they give off is NOT much like Sun light. Oh you can see, true, but the frequencies within the bandwidth of the light leaves my eyes feeling tired and worse off than when I was under regular tungsten filament bulbs. They ARE cheaper to run since they use less energy, but it seems to me that far more people wear glasses now than there used to be when we used incandescent light bulbs. Personal opinion only.

  3. While CFL and LED bulbs still have a ways to go lets not be all teary eyed at the demise of the incandescent bulb. It is 140 + years old. Let’s not make mankind out to be stupid in saying “we can’t invent a better light bulb”. To me that is like somebody saying 200 years ago that the horse and carriage are the only way and there shall never be anything different. While I despise all the AGW rants I do agree that the incandescent buld is extremely inefficient. Lets not get so caught up in arguing and fighting with everything the AGW say. Just as the democrats and republicans can never get along I fear that this is the way things are going here. If they say “up” we are forced to say “down”. If they say “white” we are forced to say “black”. In my opinion it is time for a “better light bulb”. Maybe not CFL but as I said earlier let’s not paint mankind as a bunch of stupid brutes with no creativity whatsover. It is time for the incandescents to be retired. I also get irrated when people mock and ridicule solar energy. Again it seems we are forced to do that beacuse the AGW nuts like solar. While solar may not be ready for prime time yet it is foolish of us to say “it will never be ready”. Again when you say that you are painting mankind as a bunch of dumb brutes who can’t create anything new. We on here as AGW skeptics should know the power of the might sun. I truly believe that human ingenuity can and will find a way to harness all that energy that bombards are earth daily. Human ingenuity can find a way to make solar cheap and affordable and reliable. To mock solar energy is saying humans are dumb and that all are creativity and ingenuity disappeared 100 years ago. Yes I do realize all the shortcomings of solar energy. It is not ready for “prime time” yet but someday it will be ready. maybe 10, 20, or 50 years from now. Some will say “the free market” will make it happen when it is ready. For the most part I agree with that but I also believe that the “free market” does make mistakes at times. It is a system invented by imperfect humans so it too is imperfect at times. The “free market” is the best we have but it is not perfect. One of its shortcomings is that it looks for paybacks too quickly. There are times when a good thing doesn’t catch on because it has a longer payback time and companies are unwilling to invest research into something that will not pay them back within 5 years. So maybe I am actually glad the Chinese are going after the solar market. Maybe their ingenuity and perserverance will come out with an extremely efficient and cheap solar panel in the next 10 years. Well, sorry for the rant. In getting back to the incandescent bulb – 5 to 10 years from now we will wonder why we ever liked those things.

    • You don’t retire something until you have an effective replacement. That has yet to be produced. You say the free market makes mistakes. Can you give an example? Don’t say beta vs vhs either. Vhs was more efficient to produce. It was also a more compact delivery system(smaller tapes). Its like saying evolution makes mistakes. No the more efficient, more effective and hardy always win. Always. It might take time but in the end efficency always beats out ideology. 10 years from now we will still be screwing in incandescent bulbs, guranteed. It will only take a couple of class action suits claiming increased cases of cancer or birth defects or whatever, before cls and the govt regulations requiring them will be long gone.

    • So replacing a light bulb that costs a few cents with one that costs five times as much is an improvement?

      No wonder the world has economic problems with thinking like this.

    • Enforce what? I don’t particularly like government mandates BUT if the government has to give a nudge to get “dinosaur” technology such as the incandescent out of the way I don’t see a problem. The incandescent bulb saw a 140 + year old life. It was a good run but time to move on to something better!

      • Kevin Kevin Kevin Just because something is 140 years old does not make it a “dinosaur.” As usual, you “don’t see a problem,” because you choose not to see the problems. CFLs themselves are seriously flawed and the premise under which they have been implemented is flawed. But alas, I realize that nothing anyone says on this forum will ever change your mind about anything.

  4. I wonder…Seems to me that the argument is cfl’s use less energy therefore they create less CO2 therefore ipso facto they are better for the planet. Is the extra energy required to build the new factories to produce them factored into that equation? Is the extra energy required to produce them factored in? How about the extra energy required to dispose of them properly? Since they can’t be produced locally because EPA restrictions make them cost prohibitive they have to be produced overseas and shipped here. Is that extra energy factored in? Yes incandescent is 140 year old tech but it is not simple tech. The bulbs Edison produced and the ones that are being produced to day are as different as the Model T is from the Newest Ford Fusion. No, I think this is one more example of good intentions turning into a nightmare all around. I suspect if we looked we would find a lot of lobbyist and congress folks made a ton of money buying up stock in the companies that make these things.

  5. One other thing; over the last 3 years or so, I have replaced every single incandescent with a cfl as needed. With the exception of a couple of desk lamps that use halogen, and the appliances (dryer, oven and fridge) all the illumination in my home comes from cfl’s. I have seen no reduction in my energy costs. I am paying the same amount I was 3 years ago. Where is all the savings?

    • There are No Savings. That’s because, even if you use less energy, they jack up the rates to compensate for the reduction in revenue caused by reduced sales…

      I switched all the bulbs in my residence two years ago because I was hoping to save some money. I monitored the electric meter for several straight months with no noted reduction in usage. To date, I have not seen a reduction in the amount of energy we use. So personally, I do not believe CFLs save electricity at all. To me, it’s just another of the Green Energy Scams.

      PLUS … the regular CFLs won’t work correctly in cold conditions! If you use them outside in the Winter, for a porch light or whatever, you have to buy a special (more expensive) CFL to handle the cold; otherwise, they don’t burn correctly.

      Also, we only use half of our home. The other half is closed up unless we have company. This saves having to heat and cool half a home we don’t use regularly. In Winter, the temp. in that half of the house can get down to about 50 when the outside temp goes into the teens or 20s. The CFLs don’t work correctly when the temp in the room goes below 60… They are slow to start and they burn dimly.

      CFL = Copiously Flawed Lighting

  6. What I always think is funny is that one of the original Edison lightbulbs was installed in a place that is very hard to get to and has been on, providing light, since it was first placed there. Those were a really economical way to get light – but they did not need much replacing so they were replaced by the more “modern” incandescent lightbulbs that needed to be replaced – industry needs to sell more than one lightbulb per fixture you know.

  7. There is no “ban” of any type of light bulb, only new efficiency standards. George Bush signed the bill in 2007 with a 5 year grace period, ending now. He praised it as a national security measure, as 75% energy savings on lighting is energy equivalent of millions of barrells of oil we don’t have to import from the Arab nations that hate America.

    By the way, the very small amount of mercury is CFLs is less than the mercury emitted by the power plants to generate the 400% more electricity to supply older inefficient bulbs.

    • Yeah, but I’m not in danger of dropping a power plant on my kitchen floor and releasing mercury into my home. I can’t say the same for CFL bulbs. LoL

  8. Friends

    Please note that there is no ban on a certain type of incandescent bulb.

    The ‘rough services’ bulbs with multiple filaments are NOT BANNED

    for instance


    open this page

    and search for “rough service” to find that it exempt…

    so, you can still purchase incandescents, many are made in the USA and not subject to any ban at all


  9. One point not touched on with CFL bulbs is the power factor rating of these bulbs. If I was to buy a fluorescent strip type light it comes with a ballast either electronic or switch start and importantly a capacitor to improve the power factor from about 0.5 inductive to 0.9 roughly. The ideal being unity power factor of 1 which is purely resistive. A CFL bulb has no facility to improve power factor, therefore the wattage rating can in effect be almost doubled from 11w to around 20w for example. Your meter at home does not take into account inductive or capacitive effects, therefore it will still only meter 11w. A tungsten filament light is almost purely resistive and has almost unity power factor.

  10. Incandescent bulbs will not actually be banned, because CFL bulbs cause lethal optical illusions in machine toolshops.

    CFL bulbs flicker in sync with the AC alternating current power supply. Since some machine tools also rotate in sync with the AC supply, this creates a dangerous illusion that the tool is not moving, is switched off, even when the tool is moving fast enough to rip your arm off. The CFL bulb always flashes when the tool is at the same point in its rotation, which tricks the eye into seeing the tool as stationary.

    In Europe, you can still buy incandescent bulbs, if you buy them from machine tool outlets, such as the following. They dont make a song and dance about it, but these are actually incandescent bulbs:

    The ban is a smokescreen – they cant be banned, because banning them would kill people.

  11. you know that one way around this ban would be to just make a Bulb that is a little less than 100 Watts ,Just make the bulb 95 watts.

  12. The amount of mercury in a light bulb is relatively small compared to say a thermometer. Additionally, what do you think is released into the air when you turn on the lights and get power from a coal based power planet. Mercury and sulfur.

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