Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs) Serious Dangers And Alternatives

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs) Serious Dangers And Alternatives

Did you know that our new energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulbs (CLFs) contain small amounts of mercury?

From the Energy Star website:

“CFLs produce light differently than incandescent bulbs. In an incandescent, electric current runs through a wire filament and heats the filament until it starts to glow. In a CFL, an electric current is driven through a tube containing argon and a small amount of mercury vapor. This generates invisible ultraviolet light that excites a fluorescent coating (called phosphor) on the inside of the tube, which then emits visible light.”

Mercury is a very toxic substance especially to fetuses and children; that is why it has been banned from thermometers and thermostats. The Environmental Protection Agency even has guidelines to how much canned tuna we can eat a month because of the mercury contamination.

So why put it in our new energy-saving light bulbs?

It appears no other element proved as efficient as mercury to emit a strong enough light and still use less energy than incandescent light bulbs.

But, after these toxic mercury-laden light bulbs are used, where do they go?  Out in the trash or do they follow the recommended procedures for disposal?  Most likely tons of these light bulbs end up in our landfills.

“Most mercury vapor inside fluorescent light bulbs becomes bound to the inside of the light bulb as it is used. EPA estimates that the rest of the mercury within a CFL – about 11 percent – is released into air or water when it is sent to a landfill, assuming the light bulb is broken.”

“Therefore, if all 272 million CFLs sold in 2009 were sent to a landfill (versus recycled, as a worst case) – they would add 0.12 metric tons, or 0.12 percent, to U.S. mercury emissions caused by humans.”

Now, the government knows about this but their argument is that energy-efficient light bulbs decrease the use of coal-fired electrical power (CFLs use 75% less energy than incandescent light bulbs):

“EPA estimates the U.S. is responsible for the release of 103 metric tons of mercury emissions each year. More than half of these emissions come from coal-fired electrical power. Mercury released into the air is the main way that mercury gets into water and bio-accumulates in fish. Eating fish contaminated with mercury is the main way for humans to be exposed.”

Their other argument is that the mercury in CFLs is minimal, even when broken.

Mercury Fact Sheet

3000mg – Common thermostats (max. amount)
500mg – Old mercury-filled thermometer
500mg – Dental filling
25mg – Watch batteries from circa 1958-2008 (now going mercury-free)
13.6mg – Mercury emitted at a power plant to power an old NON-CFL bulb
<1 to 5mg – Compact fluorescent light bulb
<1 to 3 mg – Low-mercury CFL’s (e.g., Phillips and Turolight)
0.000007 mg – Median exposure from a broken CFL

But look at the guidelines the EPA has published about what to do if one of these bulbs breaks in your home:

What to Do if a Fluorescent Light Bulb Breaks

Fluorescent light bulbs contain a very small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing. EPA recommends the following clean-up and disposal guidelines:

1.    Open a window and leave the room (restrict access) for at least 15 minutes.

2.    Remove all materials you can without using a vacuum cleaner.

    • Wear disposable rubber gloves, if available (do not use your bare hands).
    • Carefully scoop up the fragments and powder with stiff paper or cardboard.
    • Wipe the area clean with a damp paper towel or disposable wet wipe.
    • Sticky tape (such as duct tape) can be used to pick up small pieces and powder.


3.    Place all cleanup materials in a plastic bag and seal it.

    • If your state permits you to put used or broken fluorescent light bulbs in the garbage, seal the bulb in two plastic bags and put into the outside trash (if no other disposal or recycling options are available).
    • Wash your hands after disposing of the bag.


4.    The first time you vacuum the area where the bulb was broken, remove the vacuum bag once done cleaning the area (or empty and wipe the canister) and put the bag and/or vacuum debris, as well as the cleaning materials, in two sealed plastic bags in the outdoor trash or protected outdoor location for normal disposal.

“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.”

Okay, so cleaning up a broken CFL is the equivalent of approaching a hazardous waste site but it’s less than our dental fillings and a can of tuna and only throws .12 metric tons of mercury into our landfills a year all of which seeps into our water supply. Hmm.

What about UV radiation?

According to the FDA:

“All fluorescent lamps emit some UV. Typical fluorescent lamps, including CFLs, which consumers would encounter, emit very low levels of UV.”

What is the wavelength range of the light radiation that is emitted by CFLs?

“Since CFLs are designed to provide general illumination, the majority of the light emitted by CFLs is localized to the visible region of the spectrum (approximately 400-700 nm in wavelength). In addition, typical CFLs emit a small amount of UVB (280-315 nm), UVA (315-400 nm) and infrared (> 700 nm) radiation.”

How close can we safely get to an operating CFL?

“Unless you are one of the few individuals who have a medical condition (such as some forms of Lupus) that makes you particularly sensitive to either UV or even visible light, you should be able to use these lamps at the same distance as you would use traditional incandescent lamps. However, a recent study from the United Kingdom Health Protection Agency has found that there are measurable levels of UV from single envelope CFLs when used at distances closer than 1 foot. As a precaution, it is recommended that these types of CFLs not be used at distances closer than 1 foot, for more than one hour per day.”

Shouldn’t there be a warning for people with Lupus and special clean-up instructions on the box of compact fluorescent light bulbs for pregnant women and children?

Finally, CFLs, like all electronic devices emit electromagnetic fields which are known to be harmful to our bodies.  The World Health Organization has been investigating this for a long time:

“For some time a number of individuals have reported a variety of health problems that they relate to exposure to EMF. While some individuals report mild symptoms and react by avoiding the fields as best they can, others are so severely affected that they cease work and change their entire lifestyle. This reputed sensitivity to EMF has been generally termed “electromagnetic hypersensitivity” or EHS.”

The symptoms include:

The symptoms most commonly experienced include dermatological symptoms (redness, tingling, and burning sensations) as well as neurasthenic and vegetative symptoms (fatigue, tiredness, concentration difficulties, dizziness, nausea, heart palpitation, and digestive disturbances).

What happens to our bodies when exposed to low-frequency electric fields?

According to the WHO:

“Low-frequency electric fields influence the human body just as they influence any other material made up of charged particles. When electric fields act on conductive materials, they influence the distribution of electric charges at their surface. They cause current to flow through the body to the ground.

Low-frequency magnetic fields induce circulating currents within the human body. The strength of these currents depends on the intensity of the outside magnetic field. If sufficiently large, these currents could cause stimulation of nerves and muscles or affect other biological processes.

The WHO goes on to say that if these magnetic frequencies get high enough they start to heat up and cook the tissues.

“Heating is the main biological effect of the electromagnetic fields of radiofrequency fields. In microwave ovens, this fact is employed to warm up food. The levels of radiofrequency fields to which people are normally exposed are very much lower than those needed to produce significant heating.”

CFLs don’t give off enough EMFs to cook our tissues, but they are still investigating the effects of long-term low-frequency exposure.

For those who are into “alternative healing” and are aware of and sensitive to the electromagnetic field around our bodies and hearts, EMFs have been known to compromise the integrity of our etheric template or energy field and as a result, disturb the entire functioning of not only our physical bodies but our ability to access knowledge in our energetic design.

In any case, whether approached scientifically or alternatively, our bodies can handle quite a lot of toxic and electromagnetic pollution.  Even people with EHS (electromagnetic hypersensitivity) have been cured by either strengthening their immune systems, lowering their general exposure to EMFs and realigning their energy fields with alternative techniques and/or devices that neutralize the magnetic frequencies around them.

The best advice for maintaining a strong magnetic field around your body is lowering stress, having a good attitude and a strong immune system through a healthy diet. Those EMFs (if they haven’t already compromised your energy field) will just slide right out of your body and ground in the Earth below your feet.

So, are there any alternatives?

Surprisingly, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is developing a strategy to accelerate the use of LEDs as our future lighting source.

LEDs differ from traditional light sources in the way they produce light. In an incandescent lamp, a tungsten filament is heated by electric current until it glows or emits light. In a fluorescent lamp, an electric arc excites mercury atoms, which emit ultraviolet (UV) radiation. After striking the phosphor coating on the inside of glass tubes, the UV radiation is converted and emitted as visible light.”

A LED, in contrast, is a semiconductor diode. It consists of a chip of semiconducting material treated to create a structure called a p-n (positive-negative) junction. When connected to a power source, current flows from the p-side or anode to the n-side, or cathode, but not in the reverse direction. Charge-carriers (electrons and electron holes) flow into the junction from electrodes. When an electron meets a hole, it falls into a lower energy level, and releases energy in the form of a photon (light).”

LEDs are still a bit expensive and the light only goes in the direction the bulb is pointed, but hopefully, this technology will develop quickly and phase-out the use of the toxic CFLs and energy-hogging incandescents.

And finally, a tidbit of food for future thought from the Dark-Side of CFLs:

“An International Association for Energy-Efficient Lighting (IAEEL) study conducted in Denmark, explored some carbon footprint factors, but not all, showing it took 1.8 Kwh of electricity to assemble a CFL compared to 0.11 Kwh to assemble an incandescent bulb.  That means it took 16 times more energy to produce a CFL. The study did not include the fact that a CFL is much heavier and is more dangerous to handle, and will thus cost more to package, to ship, and to sell.”

Are CFLs going to end up like our supposedly energy-efficient Hybrids and cost more, in the end, to produce and ship than the energy they save?

Light bulb petitions:

Elimination of CFL Bulbs
Protect Migraineurs from Compact Fluorescent Bulbs
Irlen Petition


What to Do if a Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) Bulb or Fluorescent Tube Light Bulb Breaks in Your Home Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Energy Savings Potential of Solid-State Lighting in General Illumination Applications U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)

Exploring the Fluorescent Light Bulb Crusade & its Detrimental Effects on the Environment

Frequently Asked Questions Information on Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs) and Mercury Energy Star

Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) – Fact Sheet/FAQ  U.S. Food and Drug Association (FDA)

Compact Fluorescent Bulbs and Mercury: Reality Check Popular Mechanics

The Dark Side of CFLs Walt McGinnis

Lifecycle analysis of Integral compact flourescent lamps versus incandescent lamps Technical University of Denmark