Monday, June 29, 2009

CFL Bulbs - Conflicting Facts Light up cautionary warning

Back in February I wrote a piece about Compact fluorescent light bulbs and potential dangers involving their use: Compact Fluorescent Lights = A Potential Bio-Hazard

At issue is the presence of mercury, a highly toxic substance, which can lead to potentially serious health complications for people animals and the unborn.

In today's paper was a Canadian Press story saying that Health Canada is now studying a variety of concerns due the wide spread use of these energy saving bulbs. In my February blog entry I linked up to the EPA's website (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) for clean up information because I couldn't find any relevant Canadian information.

Health Canada has now filled that void with detailed and lengthy instructions about what to do should you break one of these spiral shaped bulbs. The presence of mercury means a lengthy and meticulous clean up is involved:

  • Leave the room
    • Remove people and pets from the room and keep them out of the room during the clean-up process.
    • Avoid stepping on any broken glass.
  • Ventilation
    • Ventilate the room for at least 15 minutes prior to starting clean-up by opening windows and doors to the outdoors. This will ensure that mercury vapour levels are reduced before you start cleaning.
  • Clean-up Directions for Hard and Carpeted Surfaces
    • Do not use a vacuum to clean up the initial breakage, as it will spread the mercury vapour and dust throughout the area and may contaminate the vacuum.
    • Wear disposable gloves, if available, to avoid direct contact with mercury and to prevent cuts.
    • Scoop or sweep up the broken pieces and debris with two pieces of stiff paper or cardboard. Do not use a broom.
    • Use sticky tape, such as duct tape or masking tape, to pick up any remaining fine glass or powder.
    • Wipe the area with a damp paper towel, cloth or disposable wet wipe to remove any residual particles.
    • Place the broken glass and clean-up materials in a glass container with a tight fitting lid to further minimize the release of mercury vapour.
  • Carpeting - Steps to Take After the Initial Clean-up
    • If the rug is removable, take it outside, shake and air it out for as long as is practical.
    • The first time you vacuum on installed carpet after the clean-up, shut the door to the room or close off the area as much as possible and ventilate the room in which the lamp was broken by opening the windows and doors to the outside. When the vacuuming is done, remove the bag, wipe the vacuum with a damp paper towel, cloth or disposable wet wipe, and then place the vacuum bag and paper towel in a sealed plastic bag outside. In the case of a canister vacuum, wipe the canister out with a wet paper towel and dispose of the towel as outlined above. Continue to ventilate the room for 15 minutes once the vacuuming is completed.
  • Disposal
    • Immediately place waste material outside of the building in a protected area away from children.
    • Dispose of the waste at a household hazardous waste location as soon as possible. Check with local, provincial, or territorial authorities about the requirements for recycling and for the location of household hazardous waste depots or pick-up.
    • Do not dispose of the waste in your household trash.
    • For further information on disposal, please contact Environment Canada.
  • Washing
    • Wash your hands after storing and disposing of waste.
  • Additional Information
    • Remove and install the CFL by handling only the base of the lamp to prevent any unnecessary pressure on the glass that may cause it to break.
    • Consider using a drop cloth when replacing a CFL to minimize the chance of breakage should the lamp fall or to protect the flooring and assist in clean-up should the bulb drop and break.
    • Store fluorescent lamps in containers that prevent them from breaking, such as in their original packaging.
    • Consider avoiding the use of CFLs in areas where the lamps may be easily broken.
I realize that many people love CFLs because they are much more energy efficient, but it would be nice to know the risks FIRST, before being sold on the benefits minus any downside. Health Canada hasn't even completed their studies into UV radiation and electro-magnetic fields, but we're being told..."Don't worry, if there are any problems we'll let you know later this year".

In my previous entry I concluded by saying that I would continue using these new bulbs, just not in rooms or in places where they might be prone to breakage. Now I'm reconsidering using them altogether until Health Canada issues its findings.

Most people aren't even aware of the fact that there are special requirements for disposal of CFLs. Because of the mercury contained within they can't simply be tossed out with other household trash, fortunately Home Depot has a recycling bin at their stores.

Don't get me wrong here, I think its great that they last 5 years or so, and consume much less electricity than the old incandescent bulbs. But if we're looking at landfills contaminated by mercury to say nothing of potential health risks involved with their use, maybe we'd be better off finding other ways to conserve, or at greener methods of power generation.

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