New Lightbulbs for a Better World, But What about the Mercury Content?
As most of you are probably aware, there is a big push to change lighting from traditional incandescent lighting to fluorescent lighting. 95% of output energy from incandescent lighting is given off as heat as opposed to illumination. The most popular trend in “new light bulbs” are compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), which only require about 20 to 25% of the energy that incandescent light bulbs need to generate light. While CFLs are initially more expensive than traditional incandescent light bulbs, they pay for themselves with a significantly longer life, lasting ten times longer than incandescents.
However, while many people are pushing for the elimination of incandescent light bulbs, CFLs are potentially problematic; they contain mercury and currently 98% of used CFLs are not recycled. Mercury is extremely toxic to humans and especially toxic to unborn and developing children.
“Mercury vapors in fluorescent lighting emit ultraviolet light when hit with a beam of electrons. The UV energy excites a phosphor on the inside surface of the glass tube, causing it to fluoresce and produce photons of visible light.”
A study was done that involved quantifying the mercury vapors that were released from broken CLFs. They found that over a 4 day period, a 13 watt bulb released 30% of its total mercury content. A conclusion from this study was that further sorbent-based technologies need to be developed for suppressing mercury vapor release from lamps such as CFLs.
This is a very interesting topic because the current energy and global warming crises have led scientists and engineers to find new paths to save the environment. CFLs, in my opinion, are a very good thing despite their mercury content because they decrease energy usage for lighting that WE ALL use every day. So, next time you are going to buy lightbulbs for the lamps in your residence and/or work place, think about the impact of the bulb you choose on the environment.