While large-scale marketing efforts tout cost savings of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), few are explaining the real cost -- to the environment and to individuals -- of broken or discarded CFLs.
One consumer has learned that accidentally breaking a CFL could cost her more than $2,000. According to the newspaper Ellsworth American, Brandy Bridges of Prospect, Maine, has been given a conservative quote of $2,000 for toxic cleanup of one CFL broken in her home.
Bridges broke the CFL as she was installing it in her daughter's bedroom. Because Bridges knew that CFLs contain hazardous materials, she called Home Depot for advice on how to clean up the broken bulb. The store directed her to a Poison Control hotline, which advised her to call the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
The DEP sent a specialist to Bridges' home who found that the mercury from one broken CFL created mercury levels in the child's bedroom that were greater than six times the state's "safe" level for mercury contamination. The specialist advised Bridges to engage an environmental cleanup firm; the firm gave her an estimate of $2,000 to clean up the broken CFL.
The child's bedroom has been sealed off while Bridges attempts to raise the money for cleanup. According to media reports, Bridges' homeowner's insurance refuses to cover the cleanup because mercury is a known hazardous material.
Celebrities, political candidates and retailers including Wal-Mart continue to promote CFLs as an economical and "green" alternative to other types of lighting. Even the EnergyStar division of the Environmental Protection Agency -- while admitting on its website that CFLs contain mercury
-- stops short of calling a broken CFL "hazardous." Like most proponents of CFLs, EnergyStar fails to mention the long-term dangers to the environment and the short-term dangers to well-meaning consumers who accidentally break a compact fluorescent light