Who Is Behind The Fear Mongering Over CFL Light Bulbs?

May 2, 2007

I received an email from a woman yesterday citing an article written in the Financial Post from Canada. She was nervous because the article was saying how when people break a CFL in their house, they have to call in the haz-mat team to get rid of it. I was looking into the source of the article and preparing some information on this article when I saw that Treehugger was talking about the real dangers of CFL’s. You can check out their site for the truth. But first, let’s take a look the scary fear mongering news from the Financial Post and who is behind these stories:

“(After breaking one)… it will take her more than 11 years to recoup the cleanup costs in the form of energy savings….Not only are CFLs much more expensive than incandescent bulbs and emit light that many regard as inferior to incandescent bulbs, they pose a nightmare if they break and require special disposal procedures. Yet governments (egged on by environmentalists and the Wal-Marts of the world) are imposing on us such higher costs, denial of lighting choice, disposal hassles and breakage risks in the name of saving a few dollars every year on the electric bill?”

Scary stuff, no? Then I looked into the author of the article, a certain Steven Milloy of JunkScience.com, CSRWatch.com and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. What do these organizations have to do with anything? Well, the Competitive Enterprise Institute is funded by, among others, Amoco Foundation, Inc., Ford Motor Company Fund, Philip Morris Companies, Inc., Pfizer Inc., Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Exxon Mobil and Texaco, Inc. Could there be a bigger group of donors AGAINST anything related to improving the environment? They have even launched attacks on Al Gore for his stance on climate change. The man behind the website JunkScience.com started his career with the now defunct TASSC (The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition), which listed its major donors as 3M, Amoco, Chevron, Dow Chemical, Exxon, General Motors, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Lorillard Tobacco, National Pest Control Association, Occidental Petroleum, Philip Morris and W.R. Grace. In 1993, TASSC started its existence as a front for Philip Morris, attempting to discredit ETS (Environmental Tobacco Smoke) research as a long-term cause of increased cancer and heart problem rates in the community. Hmm..

So, Kellie, to answer your email…Sure, mercury is dangerous, and there is a MINUTE amount of mercury in CFL’s. But do not let articles like this scare you…just by peeking behind the curtain you can see who the Wizard is.

technorati: , , , , CSR Watch, JunkScience

Filed in: Environment

About the Author:

After a varied past of being a test driver for automotive television programs, a Hollywood studio lackey, and an online media sales director, David is now the publisher and editor of The Good Human. In his spare time he rides motorcycles, drinks good beer, and builds stuff in the garage. You can follow him on Twitter at @thegoodhuman or G+ at Google
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Comments (16)

  1. Dilaceratus says:

    PZ Myers of Pharyngula had this on Milloy yesterday morning:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/05/compact_fluorescent_lights_are.php#more

    And now Consumerist.com has this:

    http://consumerist.com/consumer/white-noise/the-anatomy-of-the-dangerous-levels-of-mercury-in-cfls-myth-257125.php

    It’s important to fight back against information from people like Milloy and WND that is not only intellectually dishonest and obstructionist about the science of anthropogenic global warming, but resorts to outright fraud in its attempts to muddy the public perception of anti-GHG activities– even one so simple and painless as replacing incandescents with CFLs.

  2. david says:

    Its so insane that people dont challenge these idiots…thanks for the heads up!

  3. Mobius says:

    So – please to confirm or deny (with references please. No references = no facts) what the safe levels of mercury mandated by the WHO are – and what those levels might be like in a 4-metre x 4-metre bedroom where a CFL has been dropped and has exploded.

    TFA quotes “11 times greater” than WHO levels.

    Are you saying that’s a lie?

    Once again – please quote references.

    Simply saying “a tiny amount” does not mean there are no health risks to growing children. Mercury is a heavy metal, and once in your body it can not leave, and has some very bad effects – especially on young people.

    See, I could say that I’m only going to put “a tiny amount” of plutonium in your soup – but it only takes 1/000th of a microgram of plutonium to kill you in a rather nasty, and painful way. So “tiny amount” is entirely relative to the toxicity of the compound in question.

    Don’t duck out on this one – I want to see the FACTS. And I’ll be back in 48 hours to check.

  4. Dilaceratus says:

    Snopes.com now adds this to their Urban Legends:

    http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/cfl.asp

    which, coming only a few days after the Milloy piece was published, has to be a record for thorough debunking.

    This is such a blatant example of dishonest science and dishonest journalism one can only hope that it will receive wider media attention, as an example of how purposely deceptive anti-anthropogenic global warming dead-enders are willing to go in order to advance their goal of distorting the public’s perception of the science.

  5. david says:

    Mobius, facts are scary, no? I guess you missed the facts about who was paying for this “research” in the article. I am putting up a new post to talk about your lovely comment, as it would take up too much room here.

  6. I agree that Big Biz will use any means necessary and twist the science around to serve their needs. That said, we have WAY too much mercury in the environment already–they’re starting to find it (along with other chemicals ) in umbilical cord blood, according to the CDC. I’m not convinced that a bunch of CFLs crunched in landfill isn’t going to be hazardous…mercury doesn’t biodegrade.

    We’re actually opting for LEDs…

  7. david says:

    LED’s are great Marie!….no one disputes that there is mercury in the bulbs and that mercury is bad for us. The main point was that this guy, who is fully funded by oil, gas, cigarette and drug companies, is going around saying that breaking a CFL causes a disaster zone, when it doesn’t. Mercury sucks and I wish we could get rid of it, but until they come up with a replacement…thanks for the comment!

  8. Kellie says:

    Thanks David for peeking into that article for me! :) Sometimes it’s very frustrating to know who’s telling you the truth and being objective. Thanks again, I appreciate it!

  9. david says:

    Sure thing Kellie…it bothers me too that this stuff gets out as “news”!

  10. Mobius says:

    Thank you for providing the link to Snopes. That article seems quite authoritative – and my own investigations at other sites has also revealed the myth.

    I am always happy to change my mind when the facts as I understand them change. I’m not particularly enamoured of any particular type of home lighting, and my new home (being built now) is largely being lit by 12V Halogen systems connected to the C-Bus control panels throughout the house.

    I will ensure however, that where “standard” light bulbs appear (Outside lights, garage lighting, some external garden lights) they have CFLs installed.

    In this instance, I am extremely happy to be proved wrong. Thanks again.

  11. Mandy says:

    Snopes is not the authority on the subject and actually has some problems with it’s facts.

    When the debunkers print bunk -http://www.thejemreport.com/mambo/content/view/235/

    Originally I was elated that there was a new bulb that could save the environment and save me money. But after throughly researching this product I’ve become very alarmed about the dangers inherent in this product. Of particular concern is the small amount of mercury in this product. Environmentalists will say it’s only a small amount, or as snopes.com describes it, no bigger than the size of a period at the end of a sentence. But multiply that by the billions, with no way to safely dispose of this product (and let’s be honest here, most people don’t have time to go to the bathroom much less waste time bringing these to a recycling facility) and there is the very real potential of turning the world into a hazardous waste dump.
    Environmentalist will state that it will prevent greenhouse gases and help curb global pollution. But actually the opposite is true. CFLs are mass produced by the millions in coal powered plants in China. As more and more are produced, expected to grow into the billions as more and more countries are mandating their use, so there will be a need for more and more coal powered plants to be built to produce these bulbs offsetting any supposed polution saving benefit. Before we throw the baby out with the bathwater in our rush to save the planet, we should seriously consider the risks and benefits of this product. After all, if NPR is getting nervous about this product there must be something to the danger.
    Here is an article that highlights the benefits and risks of this product. http://www.americanthinker.com/2007/04/ban_the_bulb.html