Are CFL Light Bulbs Dangerous?


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Not really. And while I could end the article right there I won’t, because too many people have bought in to the idea that CFL light bulbs are going to kill us all. So, I wanted to clear up a few things for those who still think that CFL bulbs are bad and instead encourage people to change to more energy-efficient CFL’s. Sure, new LED bulbs are even more “green” and I will have an article on some great ones very soon, but right now CFL’s are available in almost every store you may shop in, and people really should be putting them in their house to save money and cut down on energy use. So let’s take a look at some facts…

The biggest concern about CFL bulbs is that the mercury in them is going to make us sick. True, mercury is not good for us. However, we all need to be aware that the incandescent bulbs we have been using forever contain mercury as well, and yet no one has been complaining about them all these years. In fact, some people have been in a mad rush to buy up all the incandescents before the ban on them goes into effect in 2012, meaning they are willingly exposing themselves to mercury AND costing themselves more in energy bills just to avoid CFL bulbs. Many don’t realize that incandescents contain mercury, but now they do!

That being said, here are some more facts that are rather contrary to the “CFL bulbs are dangerous” crowd: Helen Suh MacIntosh is a professor in environmental health at Harvard University and had this to say about mercury in compact fluorescent bulbs:

A CFL containing 5 mg of mercury breaks in your child’s bedroom that has a volume of about 25 m3 (which corresponds to a medium-sized bedroom). The entire 5 mg of mercury vaporizes immediately (an unlikely occurrence), resulting in an airborne mercury concentration in this room of 0.2 mg/m3. This concentration will decrease with time, as air in the room leaves and is replaced by air from outside or from a different room. As a result, concentrations of mercury in the room will likely approach zero after about an hour or so. Under these relatively conservative assumptions, this level and duration of mercury exposure is not likely to be dangerous, as it is lower than the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard of 0.05 mg/m3 of metallic mercury vapor averaged over eight hours.

Is there an “acceptable” level of mercury to ingest? Not really. Although standards have been set (because OSHA has to have something to do, right?), that doesn’t mean we should go around ingesting mercury. However, that’s exactly what we do – the fish we eat contains mercury, as does the air we breathe and the water we drink. In fact, a fact sheet from EnergyStar says that using CFL light bulbs instead of incandescents will result in less mercury emissions from coal plants because of how much energy they save. That’s a pretty solid argument for using CFL bulbs, no? Using them will actually result in less mercury in our environment, even taking into account the tiny amount in the bulbs themselves.

And here is a nice diagram outlining that fact:


As for cleaning up a broken CFL at home, the EPA’s guidelines talks about plastic bags, paper towels, rubber gloves and shaving cream. Nowhere does it say that you need to call a HazMat team in to clean up a broken lightbulb. And when those speaking out against CFL’s are gas, oil, drug, and cigarette companies, you really have to question their sincerity/motives.

The truth is that compact fluorescent light bulbs use up to 75% less energy and last up to 10 times longer than incandescents. If every home in America replaced just one incandescent bulb with a single CFL, in one year it would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes. That would prevent the release of greenhouse gas emissions equal to that of about 800,000 cars.

That, and they aren’t any more dangerous than incandescents, eating fish, or breathing air. Please, change a light bulb in your house today.

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  1. I’ve never heard anyone complain about the mercury as a reason not to buy them, but many complaints that they don’t light up quickly or are very dim. I have almost excusively CFLs in my house, and I can say for sure that some are great, and some not so much. I think it has to do with brand, but I haven’t confirmed this yet. I moved the slow dim one to my bedroom, I don’t mind in the morning that it takes a while to get to full brightness.

  2. Hello, are CFL’s safe for pregnant women if one breaks? If a CFL breaks when toddler pulls lamp off end-table, is that unsafe?

  3. Mercury is deadly poison – EMF goes off the charts with these light bulbs. Dont be suckered into thinking they are better for you because they arent. you have warming mercury all around you and causing electrical waves that are NOT in harmony with your body. Wake UP people dont let this happen – stand up for your right to have smart healthy products not this – its made to mess with your brain and poison and dumb you down.

  4. You do know that mercury is emitted by the truck-load by coal-fired power plants, right? And if we stick to incandescents, we need more power plants, right? And by using CFLs we actually reduce the amount of mercury in the
    atmosphere, right?

    Didn’t think so. Now you do!

  5. the power plant will always run at the same capacity, whether one electrical consumer is on or 1000000000. that’s why even “earth hour” is bullshit…

    this high level corruption. if an incandescent lightbulb breaks, pick a broom and clean up the mess. if a CFL bulb breaks, chemical hazard problem. IN MY OWN HOUSE. hmmm…

    “If every home in America replaced just one incandescent bulb with a single CFL, in one year it would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes. That would prevent the release of greenhouse gas emissions equal to that of about 800,000 cars.” – totally wrong.

    1. Please take the time to read about the true “dangers”, you wouldn’t be so scared to move forward with energy saving lightbulbs. It’s nowhere near as bad as media outlets and Faux News proclaim. And power plants do not always run at the same capacity. Feel free to call any single one of them and ask; it’s just not true.

  6. I’m really wondering about the concerns, I heard about EMF’s and the compact flurescent bulbs. I’ve heard also that they are off the charts! Can anyone comment on this.

    1. Not worried about them. We are surrounded by EMF from everything, and I am much more concerned with pollution from all the coal-fired power plants we need to burn “regular” light bulbs. Reducing energy loads means reducing the amount of plants needed.

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