(NaturalNews) Although compact fluorescent lightbulbs have become a favorite symbol of energy efficiency, and though several state and national governments have passed or are considering legislation to ban the older incandescent bulbs, compact fluorescents provide a hazard of their own.
Compact fluorescent lightbulbs are made with mercury, a naturally occurring metallic element that is highly toxic to the nervous system. According to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fact sheet about compact fluorescent bulbs, exposure to mercury may cause damage to the brain, central nervous system, kidneys and liver, and may produce symptoms including trembling hands, difficulty moving or memory loss.
For this reason, the EPA recommends careful disposal of old or broken compact fluorescent bulbs. According to the agency, broken bulbs should be swept up but not touched or vacuumed. The area should then be wiped with a disposable paper towel to remove all glass fragments. If a bulb breaks, the EPA counsels immediately opening windows to disperse any mercury vapors.
A used up but not broken bulb should be sealed in plastic and taken to a local Household Hazardous Waste Disposal Site, just like used motor oil or batteries.
However, the EPA points out that the use of compact fluorescent bulbs actually leads to a reduction in the overall mercury in the environment, even locally.
The primary cause of mercury pollution is coal-fired power generation, which is responsible for 56 percent of the electricity used in the United States. According to the EPA, more energy-efficient incandescent bulbs lead to the emission of 10 milligrams of mercury, compared to 2.4 milligrams for a compact fluorescent bulb.
Compact fluorescents also contain substantially less mercury than other household devices. For example, a mercury thermometer contains 500 milligrams of the substance, compared to four in a fluorescent bulb. (Mercury thermometers have already been banned in many countries due to their mercury content.)
"There is less mercury emitted from these bulbs than from a coal-fired power plant that will continue to [power] incandescent [bulbs]," said Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute.
However, it should be noted that coal-fired power plants do not emit mercury directly into homes, whereas mercury-containing light bulbs can bring the substance right into a child's room.