They don’t save enough money to pay for the health damage they can cause.
I. History: In response to the Arab oil embargo of 1973 the spiral shaped compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) was invented in 1976 by a General Electric engineer named Edward E. Hammer. Production and use slowly increased until they took off in 1995 when China started to mass produce them. Today you see CFLs almost everywhere but wise people are switching to the much safer LED bulbs or the tried and true incandescent, or incandescent-halogen hybrid bulbs. Utilities have been sponsoring CFL bulbs with special discount pricing ($2/bulb) for years. Those discounts are paid for by taxpayer dollars given to the utilities and direct rate increases as well.
II. Advantages: CFLs produce the same amount of lumens (light) as regular incandescents but they consume about 75% less electricity. This reduced the load on electrical generating plants, conserved fuel and reduced air pollution. They can last 6,000 hours if left on non-stop which can offset their higher cost.
III. Disadvantages and Hazards: Most people do not like the color of the light. If they are turned off and on frequently the life is drastically shortened. The three main ecological and health hazards are: toxic mercury, strong electric fields and the production of dirty electricity (DE) which is injected back onto your wiring and is conducted throughout the rest of your house and beyond to the neighbors as well. I have tested CFLs subsidized by PG&E that tested as high as 12,500 GS units on my X10 Stetzer meter for just one single bulb much less a house full of them. For an interesting report on the “Health Effects of Electrical Pollution”, DE in this case, please read this very informative article: The health effects of electrical pollution.
IV. Beliefs Held By Utilities: My recent conversation with Gary, the manager at the local SMUD utility E-House exhibit revealed some interesting beliefs held by utilities. I was in the E-House measuring DE with my X10 Stetzer meter and the reading was about 5,000 GS Units (50 is the safe max). Several CFL bulbs and dimmer switches were being used at the E-House. I asked Gary why the DE was so high here and he responded that “It comes along with the regular 60 cycle current”. When I asked “What Produces the DE” Gary said “It is the result of non-linear loads”. I asked if CFL bulbs were non-linear loads and he said “Yes but they save energy and reduce air pollution”. When I asked him about the mercury hazard in the bulb that happens when they break in your house or people toss the CFL in the trash I got an interesting answer. The official utility reason that the toxic mercury is accepted is that “The CFL bulb puts less mercury into the environment compared to the incandescent bulbs due to reductions in power plant emissions”. This rational sounds a like good trade off on a global scale but don’t break a CFL bulb in the bedroom of a pregnant woman least the fetus be damaged: here is what the EPA says are the health effects.
California generates only 0.7% of its electricity with coal, the most mercury laden fuel, and ranks 44 out of the 50 states in total coal-fired power plant capacity. Power plants in China , where the CFL bulbs are made, burn a lot of coal and the airborne mercury pollution blows across the Pacific ocean to the US west coast and points eastward.
V. CFL Bulb Cleanup Protocol: An excellent HAZMAT protocol from the State of Maine that takes broken CFL bulbs very seriously. Do it safely.
VI. How Mercury Vapor Harms the Brain: A short video by the Dept. of Physiology and Biophysics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary. When I saw this video of neurons being denuded I felt absolutely sick about exposing myself during a broken CFL bulb clean up.
The first time I broke one (23 years ago) I used a vacuum cleaner which is the absolute worst thing you can do. A few years later I became very aware of the CFL/mercury connection and had my hair tested at a certified lab: I had a very high level of mercury in my hair. This event drove me to study nutrition for ways to bind and remove the mercury from my body. Have you had your body tested for mercury content?
So how much mercury is in a CFL bulb and how badly can one CFL pollute when broken? It is a good idea to find out so you have the motivation to remove and properly dispose of CFLs and switch to safer lighting..
Can CFL bulbs cause epilepsy, migraines and Multiple Sclerosis? I have seen house guests turn them off due to headaches: my Stetzer meter reading on this circuit was 300 GS units. I have seen houses guests get up and leave when seven CFLs were turned on: this man stated that his “whole body was shaking’ when the CFLs were turned on. My Stetzer meter reading on that circuit was 750 GS units. Here is a good article about the health threats of CFL bulbs.
VII. Safer Solutions: There currently are three alternatives for 60 cycle, AC current screw in sockets:
Incandescents are proven to be safe but use five times more electricity. Incandescents heat up the room which may be good in the winter but makes the air-conditioning system work more frequently in the summer which raises your utility bill.
LEDs can be clean or dirty and all of them are very expensive unless they are subsidized. The dirty ones produce just as much as DE as a CFL bulb while the good ones are about 95% cleaner and acceptable particularly if special filters are installed on that circuit.
LEDs use about 85% less electricity than incandescents, last much longer than CFL bulbs, provide the largest energy savings and have no mercury in them. So far-so good.
I use LEDs in my home and office and 150 watt incandescents on bedside table lamps for reading. We have a list of the ones that are clean and safe.