Member Rara Avis
Sorry, but I don't think Congressman Poe is funny so much as disingenuous. He simply MUST know better.
Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs) provide the same light for 75 to 80 percent less electricity. That's not a small thing. Swap out just one incandescent 60 watt bulb in America's 110 million households and you've saved enough electricity to light all the homes in Delaware and Rhode Island for the same period. In terms of oil not burned or gases not spent into the atmosphere, that one bulb is equivalent to taking 1,300,000 cars off the road.
And that's just one bulb per household. I can't find the resource today, but several months ago I read that if every incandescent bulb was replaced with an equivalent CFL, America would no longer have to import its oil. I probably read that wrong, but there's absolutely no doubt that a mass switch to CFL will make a profound and lasting effect on America's energy problems.
While the Congressman laments U.S. legislation that will take effect in 2014, that time table will, in fact, make America one of the last in the world to ban the sale (not the use) of incandescent bulbs. Brazil and Venezuela were the first to start phasing out incandescent in 2005. Canada has announced a plan to phase out the bulbs by 2012, the Philippines by 2010, Italy by 2010, Belgium by 2012, Ireland by 2009, and the United Kingdom by 2011. And that's just a few. Any country that doesn't make the change is just incredibly stupid.
Are CFLs safe?
Well, considering we've had conventional fluorescent tubes used in millions of offices, schools, stores, and government building since 1938, it's a little hard to image that the new CFLs -- which have substantially LESS mercury than the tubes -- could really be that big of a problem.
As Grinch indicated, the amount of mercury is tiny, about 5mg. Compare that to the 7mg found in a little button battery, the whopping 500 mg found in a thermometer, or the truly stupefying 3,000 mg in an old thermostat. Here's the kicker, though. About half the power plants in America burn coal to produce electricity. Such a plant emits 10 mg of mercury to produce the electricity necessary to burn one incandescent bulb. Sounds like a complete wash to me.
The numbers, however, don't tell the whole story. No mercury, in any form, is good for you, but mercury vapors are particularly dangerous. If you break a fluorescent bulb -- either the old tube kind like I have in my garage or the new CFLs I have throughout my house -- you have to be really careful not to breath the fumes. Open a window, run a fan, and wipe the area with a damp paper towel to pick up the glass fragments. Don't use a vacuum, broom, or your hands. Seal all the fragments in a double plastic bag and take it to the nearest CFL recycling center (there's one in most Wal-marts, I think). Again, however, these precautions are absolutely no different than what fluorescent tubes have represented for most of the past seventy years. And think about it; how many bulbs do you actually break in a year? I honestly can't remember the last bulb I broke. (And now that I won't have to change a bulb for the next five to ten years, I expect to break a lot fewer of them.)
And, yea, because we don't want mercury in our landfills, CFLs shouldn't be thrown out with your regular trash. Neither should the old fluorescent tubes, most batteries, or your thermometers. Yea, right, like everyone is going to keep our landfills clean at the expense of their own convenience?
The answer, though, is pretty simple. You don't want beer and pop bottles going to the landfill? Charge a deposit and people will return most of them voluntarily. As usual, money talks.
Speaking of money, you can easily find out what your own savings might be by making the switch to CFLs. The CFL Savings Calculator is supplied courtesy of General Electric. You know? The company that invented the ductile tungsten filament and built a billion dollar industry on incandescent technology? Even GE has seen the light.