CFL bulbs might not be such a great, green option after all

Clf bulb
When we realized the savings to be had and the energy efficiency to be gained by switching over to CFL light bulbs, we were sold and decided to make the switch. Though the process isn't complete, we've probably transitioned more than half of our home.

Problem is, in the past few weeks I've begun to read reports that concern me.

The deal is that these bulbs contains small amounts of mercury. Mercury is a highly toxic element, that should be avoided, particularly by children and pregnant or nursing mothers, but really by everyone. It has very dangerous neurotoxic effects, which is why there is such a huge concern with mercury in silver tooth fillings, vaccinations, etc.

If a bulb breaks, guess what you'll be dealing with? You guessed it… a mercury spill. This is bad news!

Check out this great post from Blissfully Domestic (might I take this opportunity to say that I am thrilled to be a new contributor to their Family section?).

As well, this is an important link to the EPA with information regarding clean up and spills, etc. (which is also linked to in the above post).

I'm getting ready to make a case to my husband for ditching our new bulbs, in favor of returning to plain old incandescent ones. Am I the only one?

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  1. You’re not the only one! We decided long ago to not make the switch at all due to the mercury situation if one breaks. I did hear that they will be phasing out the regular old bulbs eventually though. Lets just say, we’ll be stocking up on the old ones if that’s true!

  2. I definitely think that my response will be different than the vast majority of people, but we still use the CFL bulbs. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t wait for a better alternative, like commercial LED lights. But, I think the main reason that we are not too alarmed about the bulbs is that they are well constructed and will not likely break–unless you just very clumsy with them. We know many families that use them–and we have used them for a couple of years–and we have yet to meet anyone that has ever broken one of the CFL’s before. I’ve dropped my share of them on the carpet and they did not break. This is one of those situations that I have found very confusing as to which product–CFL or old fashioned bulbs–is the best product. And we’ve stuck with the CFL’s. I’m sure there’s a lot of people who really disagree with our family’s stance, but I just wanted to share our reasoning behind why we do it.

  3. I know! I just heard that too. I hesitated to put one of those bulbs in a floor lamp, knowing that my kids top that thing over at least once a month. MERCURY! Ai, yi, yi.

  4. I have also read similar reports. However, I have also been told conflicting information about it. From some sources, they say the amount is “so minute” that it doesn’t cause an issue. Ans also, apparently, there is lots of mercury in the air from burning coal to make electricity- so if thats the case, then its a reduction in mercury to use the new bulbs….or something. When I was a kid we had a mercury thermometer! In Ontario, I believe soon, they are banning the old bulbs. I expect other provinces to follow if they haven’t already set dates. I can’t imagine how I would possibly stock up on enough of the old kind (as they also don’t last very long) to make sure I have enough to last the rest of my life, for my kids to use as they leave home, etc. Maybe enough for only a few years.

    I understand the risk but I also know that I can’t do everything- like possibly stock up on enough to get us by from the ban onwards- plus also I can’t justify it with all the money we spent on outfitting ourselves with them in the first place.

    If you DO use the new bulbs, they are supposed to be disposed of correctly as hazardous waste. NOT in the regular garbage. Apparently many places have stations set up and many more to come to accomodate this and to make room for more of them with the ban coming.

  5. My dh and I have had similar concerns. In our reading, we learned that the lower mercury level ones have less mercury in them than a typical medical thermometer does. And break less easily. We’re still not entirely comfortable, but this information did alleviate some of our worry.

  6. You all bring up great aspects of the issue. The very first time we discussed this, my husband brought up the fact that they don’t break nearly as easily as a regular lightbulb, which I agree with.

    My concern is that (especially when you have kids), sometimes things do break, whether they’re resilient and tough or not. If you read the link to the EPA site, you can see that the guidelines for cleaning up and disposing are quite rigorous, and that makes me really uncomfortable. How would I safely clean it with my children around, if my husband was at work? What if I was pregnant (and I’m still nursing)? I just don’t like it…

    As well, are there even enough accessible places to get rid of the waste if they do break and when they stop working? What about people who don’t dispose of them properly? We all know just how many people there are out there who really don’t care about how you’re “supposed” to do something. More mercury in landfills. I don’t like that either.

    As for stocking up on the other types of bulbs, I haven’t really processed it that far yet. I think that yes, I would stock up to a degree, but I also expect that with these concerns, it won’t take long until a similar but safer product hits the market. Technology moves so quickly these days.

    Nola, the thing about mercury in the air from coal burning is interesting. I’ve never heard that before. Has anyone else? Do you have any links for me to read?

  7. Really, what are the chances that a bulb will break???? Slim to none, I’m sure. They are much more durable than incandescent bulbs. And the CFLs only contain a small amount of mercury.

    I think that the slight chance/risk is much better than the affects of global warming. I don’t know about you, but I’d love to leave the planet a nice place to live for my children and their children and so on.

  8. i feel like the worst mom in the world! we just had our THIRD bulb break?! with several toddlers running around and lamps not against the wall….what are the odds? but i only recently found out that they were so dangerous. i am seriously worried about my baby from crawling around on the carpet?! we have decided to rip it out on saturday. we didn’t anticipate this and will be stuck w/ concrete floors for who knows how long?! but i really feel like that’s the best. i can hardly sleep knowing what a toxic environment exists in my HOME?! and really, what are the odds that people are going to dispose of these new light bulbs the way they are supposed to?! how is that going to be better for our environment?!!?!
    i’m convinced that before too long, if we want to live healthy lives, we are going to have to live in a very primitive way. our own animals and gardens…and now candles?! i’m sure i’m overreacting, but 3 bulbs. i feel just aweful…..

  9. I personally haven’t decided my stance on this topic. We have some of both kinds of bulbs in our house and and have been replacing burnt out bulbs with the CFLS for a while – but I wasn’t aware of the mercury issue – way to do my research, huh?!

    My actual point in commenting is to tell you that flourescent lighting has also been proven to cause heachaches in some people. What I read says it’s mostly if the bulb flickers, but sometimes the flicker on those can be so small we don’t notice it much. I know the CFL’s don’t tend to do it as much, but it’s just one more thing to think about in your decision to switch back or not.

  10. I do know that Canada plans to ban regular bulbs nationwide within the next few years (at least that is what the news report claims). We have kind of a 60/40 split in our house. They still dont make dimmable (is that word?) CFL’s for ceiling fans, bedroom lights etc. I agree with Beth, in that I am waiting for LED bulbs to go commercial. They use even less energy than CFL’s and I am pretty sure they arent considered “hazardous waste” when disposing of them.

  11. I went back and read your link and found that info about coal and mercury in that link under “mercury emmissions.” I know that for sure my area is powered by coal. At least for now. Until they build more nuclear plants. :/ neither option appeals to me.

    I actually had two bulbs break. This was before I knew what I know now. Since there is literally nothing I can do about it, and we have long since moved from that rental place, I try not to worry, but I do. One was when I was pregnant, another while I had a baby and was nursing. I did not know ANYTHING about proper cleaning etc. how did they break- well once we had them on a top shelf in a box and DH reached up to get something and the box fell on the carpet and one broke- and the other time, DH was changing the light bulb and it broke off in the socket. Yeah. Not good. We had no idea…

    There are many things like that in life. I am sure we are exposed to things that are not good all the time. God is STILL in control. I do panic about it, yes…but I can’t do anything now. Its done and we’ve moved. I would think there would be worse complications with chronic exposure, like most things. Not to put it all lightly but we can only do what we can do and only do the best with what we know at the time. I hope that makes sense.

  12. We’re in the same boat. We switched some over, and then one broke, and it kind of freaks me out. I’m not sure what the answer is, either!

  13. I’ve never heard that.

    My problem with the bulbs is that (unlike what everyone else says) they only last a few months for me! I don’t know what is with my wiring, but they burn out way faster than my “old” bulbs!

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