Last month’s column stimulated many comments from readers, for which I am grateful. I’d like to add additional insights I gained while researching compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL) and raise the question: “Why are CFLs touted as being better for the environment?” Promotion of CFLs elevates energy efficiency above environmental hazard.
One report, “Research into the Effects and Implications of Increased CFL Use,” written by an interdisciplinary team of medical doctors, PhDs, lighting researchers and designers, electrical engineers and sustainable energy experts, questions the actual energy savings provided by CFLs. The advertised claim that CFLs are “four times more efficient than incandescent bulbs” is based not on actual use or research studies, but on mathematical calculations, thus yielding doubts about just how much CFLs cut greenhouse emissions. The same report lists among many safety concerns related to CFLs prolonged exposure to electromagnetic fields, particularly risky for infants and young children. See www.concerninglight.com/2010-03_Final-Report_comprehensive.pdf .
I discovered that, despite GE’s promise that switching to CFLs would “create green jobs,” CFLs are now manufactured exclusively in China, where power is supplied by unregulated, inefficient coal-fired power plants that contribute to global warming.
The fact that most CFLs are not recycled and end up in landfills is another concern. The PR spin has it that the bulbs contain only “trace” amounts of mercury, about four milligrams in each bulb. However, one gram of mercury, the contents of about 200-500 CFLs, will pollute a two-acre pond. According to NRDC: “Across the United States, mercury pollution has contaminated 18 million acres of lakes, estuaries, and wetlands (43 percent of the total), and 1.4 million river miles. From 2006 to 2008, the number of lake acres under advisory increased by 18 percent, and the number of river miles increased by 52 percent. And many waterways have not even been tested. In 2008, all 50 states issued fish consumption advisories, warning citizens to limit how often they eat certain types of fish caught in the state’s waters because they are contaminated with mercury.”
Additionally, if a bulb breaks in your home, breathing the released mercury vapor poses serious health hazards including nausea, vomiting and increased heart rate and blood pressure.
We consumers are often told that saving the environment is up to us. We wanted to believe the propaganda broadcast on NBC (formerly owned by GE), so we zealously switched to CFLs. We were told that we’d save money in the long run. We were told that CFLs were the next big green thing. We felt good helping to save the environment.
Hidden truths are hidden for a reason, and it seems that while corporations reap their profits, unconscionable burdens fall on us. In the case of CFLs, we pay for more expensive bulbs that don’t perform as advertised, while GE makes its profit. We pay for expensive recycling kits in our effort to do the right thing, while GE makes it profit. We are exposed to the cumulative effects of the neurotoxin mercury in our water, air and home environments, while GE makes its profit.
Can’t we do better?