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Fluorescent lights

Fluorescent lights release toxic mercury directly into the environment

Monday, February 11, 2008
by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger
Editor of NaturalNews.com (See all articles...)
Tags: fluorescent lights, health news, Natural News


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There is an international campaign to ban the incandescent bulb in favor of alternative sources of lighting, most notably fluorescents. Unfortunately, fluorescents contain noxious chemicals including argon and mercury that are contaminating the environment, specifically through their accumulation in landfill waste. IN an effort to fight the effects of global warming and save precious energy, federal and state governments are attempting to find the best way to dispose of or recycle fluorescent light bulbs.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), approximately 800 million fluorescent lamps are disposed of every year. It only takes a single gram of mercury to contaminate a two-acre pond and cause potential ecological damage through water pollution. Therefore, 800 million lamps produce enough mercury to contaminate about 20 million acres of water.

When the bulbs break, mercury can contaminate the environment, including soils, people and animals in the surrounding the area. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can severely harm the human nervous system through either ingestion, inhalation or skin absorption. It is a highly toxic heavy metal that acts as a cumulative poison similar to lead or DDT. Exposure presents the greatest hazard for infants, children and pregnant mothers. Physical symptoms may include an inability to coordinate body movement, an impairment of hearing, vision and speech, skin rashes and kidney damage.

When the bulbs are recycled, a special hazardous waste company generally carries out the process of collecting the unbroken bulbs, crushing them and capturing both the remaining mercury gas and the spent mercury solids. These companies then ship the mercury-bearing waste, using an EPA-permitted hazardous waste transporter, to an EPA-approved hazardous waste treatment, storage and disposal facility.

But most compact fluorescent lights simply end up in landfill and are not recycled at all. That's because most consumers simply throw them in the trash rather than recycling them.

Changes are being made slowly to lower the amount of mercury we may be potentially exposed to. Low energy light bulbs called compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) contain 4-15mg of mercury compared to normal fluorescent lights, which contain approximately 20 mg of the toxic metal.

"The compact fluorescent light bulb is a product people can use to positively influence the environment to…prevent mercury emissions as well as greenhouse gas emissions. And it's something that we can do now -- and it's extremely important that we do it," said Wendy Reed, the manager of the EPA's Energy Star program. "And the positive message is, if you recycle them, if you dispose of them properly, then they're doing a world of good." The trouble is, of course, that the vast majority of consumers don't recycle them or dispose of them properly, and so fluorescent lights have become a significant source of mercury pollution.

Regulations regarding fluorescent lights

All fluorescent light bulbs are supposed to be disposed of properly, which means recycling these products instead of throwing them in the trash. But these rules are never enforced. There isn't a single recorded case of a person being arrested or fined for throwing a fluorescent light bulb in the trash.

Ultimately, it becomes the responsibility of the consumer to find certified waste recycling centers or utilize special hazardous waste collection days in order to dispose of broken or dead fluorescent bulbs. The bulbs cannot be incinerated because they could become much more dangerous if the mercury becomes distributed through the air in smoke that may be inhaled. Most consumers, unfortunately, have no idea that such bulbs are supposed to be disposed of through "hazardous waste collection days" or certified waste recycling centers. Have you ever heard of these? Do you have any idea about where such centers might be in your community? If you don't, you're not alone: Nobody does!

And what about the potential dangers that exist in the transporting of broken fluorescent light bulbs to these recycling centers? Imagine bulbs breaking against one another and mercury vapor escaping into the small space inside a car. Anyone inside the car will potentially be inhaling mercury vapor. Until it's made convenient to the consumer, the consistent recycling of fluorescent lighting by our citizens is little more than a pipe dream -- wishful thinking on the part of the EPA and fluorescent light manufacturers who really don't want to take responsibility for all the mercury they're putting into the environment.

"I share your frustration that there isn't a national infrastructure for the proper recycling of this product," says Reed. "EPA is actively engaged with trying to find a solution that works for these retailers around recycling the product, because it's really, really important. ...The only retailer I know of that is recycling is IKEA. We are working with Wal-Mart on it; we are making some progress. But no commitments have been made on the part of Wal-Mart."

Compact fluorescents contain mercury, too

As an alternative to normal fluorescent lighting, compact fluorescent light bulbs have gained much popularity over the past couple years because they contain less mercury than standard fluorescent lighting. However, it is impossible to have fluorescent lighting without mercury, according to industry engineers. Obviously, recycling is not going to be enough. A mercury-free alternative must be found.

According to John Skinner, executive director of the Solid Waste Association of North America: "The problem with the bulbs is that they'll break before they get to the landfill. They'll break in containers, or they'll break in a dumpster or they'll break in the trucks. Workers may be exposed to very high levels of mercury when that happens."

Fluorescent light bulbs are considered universal waste and as such, are subject to the Universal Waste Rule of 2000, a U.S. environmental law that encourages the recycling of mercury-containing materials by allowing products such as fluorescent bulbs to be exempt from certain hazardous waste requirements.

Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark have stated they intend to eventually eliminate mercury use completely, and plan on researching alternatives to fluorescent lighting such as LED technology. General Electric has been manufacturing compact and regular fluorescent lights for over 20 years, but now admits that the accumulation of mercury could pose a problem for the environment and human health.

"Given what we anticipate to be the significant increase in the use of these products, we are now beginning to look at, and shortly we'll be discussing with legislators, possibly a national solution here," said Earl Jones, a senior counsel for General Electric.

The solution, of course is LED lights, which contain no mercury and are significantly more energy efficient than both incandescent lights and fluorescent lights. That's why I launched a new company earlier this year, EcoLEDs.com (www.EcoLEDs.com), which provides mercury-free LED lights to businesses and consumers. Right now, LED lights are very expensive to purchase up front, but they pay for themselves in about two years thanks to the savings in electricity (and they keep on working for 50,000 hours...).

There's no doubt that LED lights are the future of lighting, and the sooner we all switch to LED lights, the more quickly we'll stop poisoning our homes, communities and nations with the unsafe disposal of mercury from fluorescent lights.

Spread the word: Fluorescent lights are toxic to life on planet earth. If you care about the health of your family and your planet, don't buy light bulbs made with mercury.

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About the author:Mike Adams (aka the "Health Ranger") is a best selling author (#1 best selling science book on Amazon.com) and a globally recognized scientific researcher in clean foods. He serves as the founding editor of NaturalNews.com and the lab science director of an internationally accredited (ISO 17025) analytical laboratory known as CWC Labs. There, he was awarded a Certificate of Excellence for achieving extremely high accuracy in the analysis of toxic elements in unknown water samples using ICP-MS instrumentation. Adams is also highly proficient in running liquid chromatography, ion chromatography and mass spectrometry time-of-flight analytical instrumentation.

Adams is a person of color whose ancestors include Africans and Native American Indians. He's also of Native American heritage, which he credits as inspiring his "Health Ranger" passion for protecting life and nature against the destruction caused by chemicals, heavy metals and other forms of pollution.

Adams is the founder and publisher of the open source science journal Natural Science Journal, the author of numerous peer-reviewed science papers published by the journal, and the author of the world's first book that published ICP-MS heavy metals analysis results for foods, dietary supplements, pet food, spices and fast food. The book is entitled Food Forensics and is published by BenBella Books.

In his laboratory research, Adams has made numerous food safety breakthroughs such as revealing rice protein products imported from Asia to be contaminated with toxic heavy metals like lead, cadmium and tungsten. Adams was the first food science researcher to document high levels of tungsten in superfoods. He also discovered over 11 ppm lead in imported mangosteen powder, and led an industry-wide voluntary agreement to limit heavy metals in rice protein products.

In addition to his lab work, Adams is also the (non-paid) executive director of the non-profit Consumer Wellness Center (CWC), an organization that redirects 100% of its donations receipts to grant programs that teach children and women how to grow their own food or vastly improve their nutrition. Through the non-profit CWC, Adams also launched Nutrition Rescue, a program that donates essential vitamins to people in need. Click here to see some of the CWC success stories.

With a background in science and software technology, Adams is the original founder of the email newsletter technology company known as Arial Software. Using his technical experience combined with his love for natural health, Adams developed and deployed the content management system currently driving NaturalNews.com. He also engineered the high-level statistical algorithms that power SCIENCE.naturalnews.com, a massive research resource featuring over 10 million scientific studies.

Adams is well known for his incredibly popular consumer activism video blowing the lid on fake blueberries used throughout the food supply. He has also exposed "strange fibers" found in Chicken McNuggets, fake academic credentials of so-called health "gurus," dangerous "detox" products imported as battery acid and sold for oral consumption, fake acai berry scams, the California raw milk raids, the vaccine research fraud revealed by industry whistleblowers and many other topics.

Adams has also helped defend the rights of home gardeners and protect the medical freedom rights of parents. Adams is widely recognized to have made a remarkable global impact on issues like GMOs, vaccines, nutrition therapies, human consciousness.

In addition to his activism, Adams is an accomplished musician who has released over a dozen popular songs covering a variety of activism topics.

Click here to read a more detailed bio on Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, at HealthRanger.com.

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