Most of us have gotten the message that Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) Bulbs will help us save money and that they are better for the planet and thus we are using them everywhere in our homes. But how safe are the brands of CFLs we are using. According to the Environmental Workers Group not all CFL bulbs are created equal. The differences in the bulbs are based on the amount of mercury they contain. I was under the understanding that if the Energy Star label was on a product that meant it was the best for the environment and for us the consumers, but after reading this article Lighten Up in '09: Shopper's Guide to Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs, I am seeing some of the errors in my thinking.
"Launched in 1982 as an energy-efficiency rating system, Energy Star has driven development of energy-saving appliances and consumer products. But under the Bush administration, Energy Star drifted to the rear, becoming a passive partner of the electrical industry." In 2008 Energy Star unveiled new standards, replacement for 2003 standards; for energy efficiency requirements, performance measures and to set a cap on bulb mercury content. These standards were to go into place on Dec 2nd however the Department of Energy officials postponed the start date to July 1, 2009. Even with the new standards we, the consumers, are left in the dark about the following information when we go to buy our CLF bulbs.
- "Product labels must disclose that the bulbs contain mercury -- but not how much.
- Energy Star's 5 mg mercury cap is twice as high as necessary. EPA and NEMA estimate the industry-wide average is between 3 and 4 mg. EWG's best bulbs contain just 1 to 2.7 mg of mercury. The 5 mg cap is virtually obsolete now; putting it into effect next July is pointless.
- Some U.S. bulbs that proudly bear the Energy Star seal of approval can't be legally sold in Europe, where the European Union has capped mercury content at 4 mg per bulb for CFLs. Under the new Energy Star criteria, bulbs larger than 25 watts can contain up to 6 mg of mercury."
According to the EWG's website there are seven CFL bulbs that are a cut above the others. They include:
- Earthmate Mini-Size Blubs (13, 15, 20 & 23watt) - Mercury per bulb about 1mg
- Litetronics Neolite (10, 13, 15, 20, & 23 Watt) - Mercury per bulb about 1mg
- Sylvania Micro-Mini (13, 20, & 23 Watts) - Mercury per bulb lass than 1.5mg
- Sylvania DURA-ONE (reflector bulbs) - Mercury per bulb less than 1.8 mg
- Feit Ecobulb - Mercury per bulb less than 2.5mg
- MaxLite - Mercury per bulb 1.2-2.5mg
- Philips with Alto - Mercury per bulb 1.23-2.7mg
As consumers we need to know when and where it is safe to use CFLs. The EWG recommends not using CFLs in places "where mercury exposure is unacceptable or cleanup is difficult," such as children's bedrooms, play rooms, workbenches, or places that have a higher likely hood that the lamp might get knocked over. Why it is important to know the mercury levels within your CFLs? The level of mercury is important when it comes to cleaning up a broken bulb and the inappropriate disposal of the light bulbs. The mercury contained in the light bulb is not an issue to us in normal every day use: unless the light bulb breaks or is not recycled when it no longer functions. Some options for mercury-free bulbs are Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) or halogen energy savers.
I know this evening I will be checking out the CFLs I am currently using in my home to make sure that they are used in safe locations and to see if they make the EWG's list. I know the next time I buy CFLs I will be shopping the EWG's list.