By now, you've likely heard about the new-fashioned light bulbs, designed to save energy. Good news, because that translates to a lower utility bill. A woman named Sandy emailed me with a question about them that I thought perhaps others might have. Sandy's daughter told her how she'd they contain mercury, so, if they broke, they created hazardous waste. Sandy was concerned whether they were safe to use. I don't know the ins and outs of these bulbs myself, so I forwarded Sandy's question to a person I know at Westar, who put me in touch with Laura Lutz. Following is Laura's response:
"CFLs use 75% less energy than an incandescent bulb, so, depending on how many CFLs a person has in his or her home, there is a lot of potential for saving money on the lighting portion of one's electric bill. CFLs also produce 75% less heat. They last 8 to 15 times as long as an incandescent bulb, which means you're buying fewer bulbs and changing them less often. CFL technology is improving as well, and there continue to be new varieties added to the market each year, i.e., decorative, three-way, dimmables, etc.
"Now, to the mercury contained in the bulbs. CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury - about 5 milligrams or less - no more than could fit on Franklin Roosevelt's eye on the face of a dime. Or, for more perspective, it would take more than 100 CFL bulbs to equal the amount of mercury contained in one fever thermometer. As long as the bulb is intact, no mercury is released. If a CFL breaks, the EPA recommends opening a window if you can, for 10-15 minutes, to clear the air, and whisk-brooming up the broken pieces, putting them in a zip-lock bag and depositing in the trash. CFL manufacturers continue to find ways to reduce the amount of mercury in the bulbs. When one burns out, they should be recycled properly, and the good news is that Home Depot announced a few weeks ago that throughout their stores nationwide, they now accept CFLs for recycling. So, thankfully, CFL recycling just got more convenient. I believe the way it works is you hand the bulb to a Home Depot employee and they then deposit it in a special container until a recycling company comes to pick up the bulbs and reclaim the mercury.
"Bottom line - when you calculate the energy savings vs. the minimal amount of mercury needed to make the bulb operate efficiently, the benefits of using CFLs far outweigh any risk."
My thanks to Laura for the information. Now you have the answers and you can decide for yourself what to put in your home! You can also find additional information on Westar's web site: