Do you have florescent light bulbs in your home or business? If so, congratulations, you are now a “hazardous waste handler.” The energy savings of fluorescent bulbs are definitely NOT worth the health risks that I’m sharing with you in this investigative piece.

Do you know if one breaks over carpet, you’d have to replace the entire carpet to remove mercury contained in the bulb? Some consumers have become so ill they’ve actually had to seal-off the contaminated room until it can be safely de-contaminated by environmental remediation specialists.

The media and lawmakers encourage us to purchase compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) instead of incandescent because they use less energy—new, low-energy, compact fluorescent bulbs do use 30 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs, despite their higher initial cost. Granted, we each must do our part to conserve energy, but not at the cost of our health! The missing link is that they are not telling us the dangers of CFLs particularly when handling them, or when they break.

With help from the media, proponents of CFLs convinced Congress to ban incandescent bulbs in the energy bill President Bush signed into law Dec. 19, 2007. The bill increases efficiency standards and bans traditional bulbs by 2014—some countries, including Great Britain, ban the use of traditional light bulbs by 2012. In the U.S., laws passed by Congress demand that all light bulbs be 25 percent to 35 percent more efficient by 2014, citing $40 billion in savings between 2012 and 2040, and the need for 14 fewer coal-fired power plants.

Each CFL contains about 5 mg of mercury—enough for state environmental agencies to recommend complicated and expensive cleanup for accidental bulb breaks in homes! The 5 mg of mercury are enough to contaminate 6,000 gallons of water beyond safe drinking levels, according to research from Stanford University. ALWAYS use disposable gloves when handling CFLs—the oil from our skin can cause them to break or even explode.

Safe-handling Guide for CFL Bulbs:

  • Start with fixtures you use most. Choose CFLs for locations where breakage is rare—ceiling fixtures rather than table lamps in high traffic areas. Do not use CFL in children's rooms.
  • Buy a few bulbs of several brands and try them for quality of luminescence. CFLs do last a long time, all the more reason to make sure you are comfortable with their light quality.
  • Buy CFLs with the lowest mercury content, below 1 mg—Don't go by The Energy Star logo; it's NOT an indicator of low mercury.
  • Don't use CFLs where mercury exposure cleanup is difficult—children's rooms, playrooms, recreation/family rooms, workbenches, wall-to-wall carpet, and near irreplaceable rugs and furniture.
  • Don't use CFLs in closets and other spots lit for short periods. CFLs take 10 to 15 minutes to reach optimum light and efficiency.
  • Use mercury-free bulbs such as LED (light emitting diodes) or halogen energy-savers where CFLs don't work or pose a high risk. Consider LED or halogen for stairs and hallways where CFLs slow start-up pose a safety risk.

Other Health Hazards of CFLs
The low-energy CFL light bulb is replacing the staple incandescent bulb that has illuminated our homes and offices for over a hundred years. Now, researchers and physicians are discovering that use of CFLs are causing disorders such as rashes and swelling for thousands of people.

In addition to concerns over mercury pollution that broken compact bulbs present, Dr. Robert Sarkany, a photo-dermatologist at St. John's Institute of Dermatology, St. Thomas' Hospital in London, told a Daily Mail investigative reporter that he's treated patients who have skin rashes due to exposure to low-light fluorescent bulbs.

Physicians now worry the new bulbs could even cause skin cancer. "It is important that patients with photosensitive skin eruptions are allowed to use lights that don't exacerbate their condition," said Dr. Colin Holden, president of the British Association of Dermatologists. "Photosensitive eruptions range from disabling eczema-like reactions, to light sensitivities that can lead to skin cancer."

Those who have lupus, scleroderma, and some forms of dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis are especially at risk, and British charities say that the light from low-energy light bulbs are also triggering migraines, epilepsy, disorientation, brain-fog, and lethargy, to name a few symptoms. Sufferers have appealed to the British Parliament to exempt them from having to use the new bulbs.

I do not use or recommend any type of fluorescent bulbs because of health-related side-effects as cited above to mention a few. In addition, I have found other conditions are accelerated when the individual is exposed to fluorescent lighting of any variety including, but not limited to, fibromyalgia pain, arthritis, general inflammatory conditions, muscle/joint stiffness, eye disorders, and, I believe, it may even lower immune responses and trigger allergies.

I hope, after reading this article, you will use incandescent, LED, or Halogen lighting and conserve energy by only using lights as needed. If you've ever lived in a home powered by solar energy, as I have, you'd be acutely aware of how to live with comfortable conveniences while conserving your health and energy, naturally.

Cleaning-up broken CFL bulbs—If you break a bulb follow the nine step clean-up recommended by Environmental Working Group (EWG).

  1. Have children, pregnant or nursing women, and pets exit immediately from contaminated area.
  2. Immediately turn off the forced/air heating/air conditioning.
  3. Close doors to contaminated room and open windows to allow volatile mercury vapors to vent outdoors—mercury is toxic!
  4. Wear a dust mask or one with a disposable charcoal filter.
  5. Using disposable rubber gloves, scoop-up bulb fragments and use tape to collect tiny particles—DO NOT vacuum or sweep, mercury will become even more airborne.
  6. Seal the waste in a GLASS jar with a screw-top lid—always keep at least one jar of this type easily accessible.
  7. Dispose of waste properly, IT IS TOXIC—DO NOT place in trash or recycling. Call local Waste Management for specific hazardous waste disposal directions.
  8. Once you leave the area, wash your hands and nails several times.
  9. Leave the site for 4–8 hours, use an air purifier when possible.