April 23, 2009

CFL (Compact Fluorescent Bulbs) Pros and Cons

Speaking on April's 22 Earth Day about his energy plan, President Obama reportedly called on every American to replace one incandescent light bulb with one compact fluorescent (CFL).

Well, like all other devices CFL has pros and cons. For reference, compact fluorescent bulbs use up to 75 percent less energy then traditional incandescent lamps. However, they do present potential health and environmental hazards. I wonder if the president's advisers fully informed him of all the impacts of using these bulbs?

Last year a research by UK's Health Protection Agency has shown that CFL bulbs can emit unhealthy levels of ultraviolet radiation when they are in close proximity to people. They said that the UV levels can be equivalent to that experienced outside on a sunny day in the summer and some precaution is warranted. The Agency's chief has suggested: "We are advising people to avoid using the open light bulbs for prolonged close work until the problem is sorted out and to use encapsulated bulbs instead." Hmm... Maybe we should use at home sunscreen and sunglasses with UV protection to protect ourself from these "green" energy-efficient politically correct bulbs?

Of course, many of us are not concerned of prolong sunlight exposure and would spend long time under the sun. Nevertheless, this WHO's warning should be taken seriously: "Prolonged human exposure to solar UV radiation may result in acute and chronic health effects on the skin, eye and immune system... Over the longer term, UV radiation induces degenerative changes in cells of the skin, fibrous tissue and blood vessels leading to premature skin aging, photodermatoses and actinic keratoses. Another long-term effect is an inflammatory reaction of the eye. In the most serious cases, skin cancer and cataracts can occur."

And although the above HPA's report says that when the CFL is further then 1 foot, the UV level is less than being outside on a sunny day in winter, for me it is not good enough. I personally don't want to subject my family to UV radiation [even a low-level one] for the sake of saving a few bucks, or helping a utility company, or because of anyone's political agenda.

Besides being a source of UV radiation, all CFLs contain mercury, a toxin that can cause kidney and brain damage (how come the state of California is not requiring the appropriate warning label?) Based on a research by Stanford University, the amount of mercury in one CFL bulb can contaminate more than 1,000 gallons of water beyond safe drinking levels. Now, raise your hands: who will bother bringing a burnt bulb to a special recycling place [if you can find one in your area] rather then throwing it in the trash?

And what if you broke the CFL? The EPA has a whole page of the clean-up instructions, which include the following sections:
Before Clean-up: Air Out the Room;
Clean-Up Steps for Hard Surfaces;
Clean-up Steps for Carpeting or Rug;
Clean-up Steps for Clothing, Bedding and Other Soft Materials;
Disposal of Clean-up Materials;
Future Cleaning of Carpeting or Rug: Air Out the Room During and After Vacuuming.

Hey, how about just staying with good old incandescent bulbs until a safe alternative will be developed? By the way, today's CFLs have a lousy power factor. For now a PF doesn't affect the residential electricity bills, but it does affect the utilities. Speaking about a safe alternative. If you are interested in $10 million cash, the US Dept. of Energy is offering this prize to create a solid-state screw-in replacement for the 60W bulb. If you can develop sufficiently bright LEDs and handle the packaging, give me a buzz- I would handle the AC-DC part of it, and we'll split the prize :-)

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