Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Malkin draws attention to the fact that the newly-signed energy bill that would ban the sale of incandescent light bulbs (with a few exceptions) as we now know them by 2012 in favor of florescent light bulbs. As Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) boasts, "In this bill, we ban by 2012 the famously inefficient 100-watt incandescent bulb." Proponents of this measure argue that this ban would lead to lower energy consumption and a "healthier" environment.

As Malkin points out, this ban brings even further into focus some of the dangers posed by compact florescent light (CFL) bulbs--dangers that private and governmental agencies have yet to address fully. For many, the (relatively) high levels of mercury contained in florescent bulbs is perhaps the most striking environmental and public health risk. If bulbs break, they can release dangerous levels of mercury into the air around them. NPR has an interesting story on some of the attempts to cope with the mercury risks of CFL bulbs. Disposal of the bulbs can be especially tricky:

"The problem with the bulbs is that they'll break before they get to the landfill. They'll break in containers, or they'll break in a dumpster or they'll break in the trucks. Workers may be exposed to very high levels of mercury when that happens," says John Skinner, executive director of the Solid Waste Association of North America, the trade group for the people who handle trash and recycling.

Skinner says when bulbs break near homes, they can contaminate the soil.

The NIH has a summary of some of the health risks posed by mercury contamination:
Elemental (metallic) mercury and all of its compounds are toxic, exposure to excessive levels can permanently damage or fatally injure the brain and kidneys. Elemental mercury can also be absorbed through the skin and cause allergic reactions. Ingestion of inorganic mercury compounds can cause severe renal and gastrointestinal damage. Organic compounds of mercury such as methyl mercury are considered the most toxic forms of the element. Exposures to very small amounts of these compounds can result in devastating neurological damage and death. For fetuses, infants and children, the primary health effects of mercury are on neurological development. Even low levels of mercury exposure such as result from mother's consumption methylmercury in dietary sources can adversely affect the brain and nervous system. Impacts on memory, attention, language and other skills have been found in children exposed to moderate levels in the womb.
A CFL bulb that breaks in the home can lead to level of mercury for that room well over the safety levels established by authorities--and such a breakage can be very expensive to clean up.

There are even divisions within the environmentalist movement over these bulbs and their mercury level; some environmentalists think that such CFL bulbs shouldn't be purchased due to their high mercury content.

But there could be hope yet for incandescents: GE has announced that it hopes to introduce more efficient incandescents by 2012 that could meet future efficiency requirements.