What Do CFLs, Mercury, Clean Air and Coal Have in Common?

Ohio! That’s what.  But not through any simple word association game you’ve ever played.

First, as I wrote earlier today, I was a panelist on Feagler & Friends and one of the topics we discussed was described as follows:

Compact Fluorescents Return—FirstEnergy is again flipping the switch on a CFL give-away that was a public relations disaster two years ago.  The company is delivering up to six energy-efficient bulbs to customers who ask for them.  Customers are paying for them through a rate increase whether or not they receive bulbs.  Compact fluorescents deliver light at a fraction of the energy cost of incandescent bulbs and they tend to last longer.

Can I tell you how excited I was when I learned that the real issue we were going to address was the mercury in CFLs and the precarious situation that creates should one break and also when you finally have to dispose them? I was very excited, because through my writing for the Environmental Defense Fund, I’ve been learning so much more about the health risks and dangers mercury – and about the role alternative energy sources play.

As much as change can be a bother for almost anyone, especially when you’re simply used to the way something has been – like the light coming from a lightbulb, the real potential bugaboo with CFLs lately has been how to dispose of them and how to clean them up if they break. Why? Because of the mercury they contain.

This 2008 article from Scientific American, “Are Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs Dangerous? Compact fluorescent lightbulbs contain a minuscule amount of mercury, and you can’t safely ignore potential contact with it,” outlined the issues – and there are issues.

However, these links from the Environmental Defense Fund do a better job at explaining just how far we’ve come, because we’ve prioritized finding clean and safe energy alternatives, toward expanding the safe usage and disposal of CFLs:

Mercury Risk in CFLs: The Facts

Mercury Poisoning from Light Bulbs?

Dangerous CFLs? Don’t Believe Everything You Read

CFLs Again. Different Story – Same Answers

FYI, Lowe’s and Home Depot both offer easy CFL recycling.

So what’s the connection to coal? Cleveland’s very own Plain Dealer just wrote about the ironic link between the two in this article, “CFL bulbs: The U.S. EPA guidelines and the debate over mercury.” From the story:

[Executive director of Environmental Health Watch, a non-profit information and advocacy organization in Cleveland, Stuart] Greenberg, along with both doctors, the EPA, state regulators and environmentalists, argue that the amount of mercury spewing out of the smoke stacks of coal-fired power plants is a far great risk to everyone’s health — a risk you can’t avoid by opening a window.

And it’s that mercury that the switch to CFL bulbs is expected to reduce because the bulbs use about a quarter of the electricity of incandescent bulbs.

“The overall mercury exposure from coal-fired power plants is very substantially reduced by use of CFLs,” Greenberg said. “That’s a big part of the switch to CFL bulbs.”

(By the way, great use of hyperlinks in that article – thank you to John Funk!)

A bonus connection today to all this: the PD ran a brief mention of how the Tennessee Valley Authority is going to shutter 18 coal-fired boilers by 2018 (read the full article that was in the New York Times here).

People are noticing, they are caring, the media is covering it with fanfare and giving people facts and education about how to deal with the inevitable changes we must make to keep both the energy we need and use, and the health and safety we deserve.

Now, if only they could get LED lighting to be less expensive…

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