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CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lights) and Environmental Issues

 

Mercury Poisoning Symptoms

CFL (Compact fluorescent lights) bulbs are seen as an environmentally friendly replacement for incandescent lights. But are they really as good for the environment as claimed? The two issues often raised as arguments against using CFL's are

1 - It requires more energy to manufacture a CFL than an incandescent lamp.

2 - CFL's contain mercury which can potentially end up polluting the environment.

The first issue is fairly easily answered in that even though they do require additional energy to manufacture; this is soon offset as CFLs last a lot longer than incandescent bulb.

On this issue of mercury pollution I have summarized some of the for and against points of view below:

Arguments For CFL's

  • Overall mercury emission by compact fluorescent lamps is less than the mercury released into the atmosphere by coal-fired power generation for an equivalent incandescent lamp over the same period. This assumption is based on the electricity generated to run lighting in your local area being generated via coal fired power stations. While this currently (2007) the case in Australia many places in the world today generate their electricity by other more environmentally friendly means.
  • Mercury from used CFLs in landfills is not released into air and with proper disposal will not be released into the subsurface or groundwater.
  • The mercury content of CFLs that use 25 to 40 watts of electricity will be capped at 6 mg per unit (this is proposed in the United States)
  • Because CFLs longer life cycle, fewer bulbs and less packaging ends up in landfill.

Arguments Against CFL's

  • Many places in the world produce little energy from coal fired power plants (eg California). In the USA coal plants are now mandated to reduce their mercury emissions by between 70% and 90%.The issue of mercury is therefore likely to become more significant as electricity generation gets cleaner and CFLs become more widespread.
  • The 6mg of mercury claimed for CFL's is largely a goal at present and not the current reality.
  • A lot of CFL's are made in China with energy sourced from coal fired power plants.
  • CFL's are delivered here on ships using bunker oil, the worst mercury producer of the fuel oils.
  • There are currently very few recycling program in place or planned to handle the number of CFL's proposed.