Pounding a Point Home with a Sledgehammer

2014 is the year we say “good bye” to incandescent bulbs.  Here is a paper I wrote in 2012 concerning the adverse conditions breaking just one of these bulbs can cause.  You tell me, does it really seem worth it?  And, seriously, how many people do you really think will take the precautions listed in the following paper?  Read on…

We tend to concentrate on the small picture, yet expound upon and speechify about the big picture, when it comes to the environment.  The blackout of 2003 should have taught us that our electric grids are outmoded and inefficient.  Repairing our energy infrastructure might make it more efficient and less polluting to our environment while we are working on other, better ways to power our homes, etc.  Recycling should not require a Ph.D. in “little triangles you can’t read on the bottom of a container”.  Some states do not do any kind of vehicle inspections, and if they do, some do not test emissions.  The cost of environmentally-friendly products and systems are sometimes out of reach to the average consumer.

Small things can help – like recycling, driving energy efficient vehicles, or riding a bike to work or school.  Compact Fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) are a suggested small “solution” to reducing our carbon footprint that could have been investigated further.  They contain mercury, and unless you read the package you might be unaware of the method of disposal of this hazardous waste material.  According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, there are safety procedures you must follow (as an individual citizen – different laws apply to businesses) if you should break one.  The following are just three of many steps:

  • “Prior to cleaning up the spill, put on old clothes or disposable coveralls, old shoes or disposable booties, and disposable rubber, latex or nitrile gloves. These items may need to be disposed of after you have completed cleanup of the spill.”
  • “Place clean clothes, shoes and a trash bag just outside the room where the mercury spill occurred.”
  • “After cleaning up the spill, carefully remove your gloves by grasping them at the wrist and pulling them off inside-out. Place the gloves in the trash bag for disposal.”

It is also suggested that you air out the room for 24-48 hours before accessing it again.  (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 2009)

“On average, CFLs contain about four milligrams of mercury sealed within the glass tubing. By comparison, older thermometers contain about 500 milligrams of mercury – an amount equal to the mercury in over 100 CFLs” (EPA.gov, 2012). So, it is not a great amount of the poisonous heavy metal.  “The OSHA permissible exposure limit (PEL) for mercury is a ceiling limit of 0.1 milligrams per cubic meter of air (mg/m³), which is currently enforced as an 8-hour time-weighted average” (OSHA, 2012).  An average bulb contains 4mg of mercury.  If it breaks in a 10’x12’x8’ room containing 27.18 cubic meters of air your maximum exposure should be 2.72 mg of mercury during an 8 hour time period.

You will have used a plastic trash bag (petroleum product), latex gloves (petroleum product), fuel to get to a recycling facility (if you do not have hazardous recycling in your neighborhood), plus the cost of the clothing you had to discard.  The above information does not include the steps necessary to dispose of bulbs that have just burned out and are not broken.

Personally, I would rather our government had put money into our Universities and research facilities to thoroughly examine the costs and benefits (financial, environmental and health related) of “environmentally-friendly” products before items such as Compact Fluorescents were put on the market.  I would also like to see more of these products manufactured in the United States.



OSHA Fact Sheet.  Protecting Workers from Mercury Exposure While Crushing and Recycling Fluorescent Bulbs.  June, 2012.  Web. http://www.osha.gov/Publications/mercuryexposure_fluorescentbulbs_factsheet.pdf Accessed November 26, 2012.


Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.  Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division.  Compliance Bulletin Solid Waste.  Broken Thermometer and Fluorescent Bulb Cleanup. Guidance for Households reviewed/revised September 2009. Web.  http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite?blobcol=urldata&blobheadername1=Content-Disposition&blobheadername2=Content-Type&blobheadervalue1=inline%3B+filename%3D%22Broken+Thermometer+and+Fluorescent+Bulb+Cleanup+Guidance+for+Households.pdf%22&blobheadervalue2=application%2Fpdf&blobkey=id&blobtable=MungoBlobs&blobwhere=1251813336777&ssbinary=true Accessed November 26, 2012.

Scientific American.  The 2003 Northeast Blackout–Five Years Later. August 13, 2008.  Web.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=2003-blackout-five-years-later Accessed November 26, 2012.


What are the Connections between Mercury and CFLs? November 08, 2012. Web.

http://www.epa.gov/cfl/cfl-hg.html Accessed November 26, 2012.


Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.  Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division.  Compliance Bulletin Hazardous Waste.  Small Mercury Spill and Fluorescent Bulb Cleanup. Guidance for Businesses reviewed/revised September 2009. Web. http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite?blobcol=urldata&blobheadername1=Content-Disposition&blobheadername2=Content-Type&blobheadervalue1=inline%3B+filename%3D%22Mercury+Spill+and+Fluorescent+Bulb+Cleanup+Guidance+for+Businesses+.pdf%22&blobheadervalue2=application%2Fpdf&blobkey=id&blobtable=MungoBlobs&blobwhere=1251813173513&ssbinary=true Accessed November 26, 2012.

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