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Mercury in energy-efficient light bulbs April 17, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Environment, News, Sustainable Living.

I didn’t know that energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs contain mercury, which is of course toxic, until I read this article in the Tennessean.

According to the story, each of these light bulbs contains about 4 milligrams of mercury (over 100 times less than in those old-style fever thermometers).

A nerve toxin that accumulates in the body, mercury can cause developmental delays in children. It’s needed as the catalyst to make the bulbs glow and glow brightly.

Officials say the bulbs should be disposed of as household hazardous waste — not in the trash — and, if they break, the debris should not be vacuumed.

They’re still better for the environment than conventional bulbs, though:

They need 75 percent less electricity than an incandescent bulb, which means less mercury as well as less carbon dioxide coming from coal-fired power plants.


Fossil-fuel power plants […] are a large source of and the top emitter of mercury, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


[…] the electricity for an incandescent bulb puts about 10 milligrams of mercury in the air, while about 2.4 milligrams results from a compact fluorescent light bulb.

I’m not sure that energy-efficient light bulbs sold in South Africa are marked as containing mercury (I’ll certainly check next time I buy one). Surely we need better customer education on their safe handling and disposal.



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