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Saving the Environment While Damaging Our Health

Compact Fluorescent LampsThe problem lies in the fact that CFLs are substantially smaller and more fragile in comparison – oh yes, and there is a poisonous substance also contained within the bulb.Compact Fluorescent  LampsGlobal warming is coming at us fast, and we’re partly the cause of it. All our excessive “needs” have to be met, and so the amount of greenhouse gas emissions increases. But there are measures that organizations all over the globe are taking to delay – if not prevent – the ultimate result. One of these measures is to replace our regular light bulbs with curly bulbs, or “compact fluorescent lamps” (CFLs). CFLs last longer than regular bulbs and use less energy, thus reducing the amounts of electricity we use and the amounts of waste we produce.

So how do CFLs work in comparison to incandescent light bulbs? The main difference is the use of heat energy. We get light when the filament inside incandescent bulbs heat up until it is white-hot, so a lot of energy is needed to produce the light-emitting heat. CFLs on the other hand give off light because of the reaction between the gases in the bulb and electricity – therefore, not as much energy is needed, since the light is based on a chemical reaction. In a nutshell, incandescent light bulbs consume 75% more energy than CFLs, while CFLs last eight times longer than an incandescent – so we save energy and money.

What seems to be the problem then? The use of CFLs is a great threat to our safety. CFLs are miniature versions of the large lights that have always been used in warehouses and office buildings. The problem lies in the fact that CFLs are substantially smaller and more fragile in comparison – oh yes, and there is a poisonous substance also contained within the bulb. There is mercury content in CFLs, and it could be released when the bulb breaks – as most bulbs eventually tend to do. When a bulb breaks, especially in a household, there are serious side effects resulting from exposure.

Not only are we subjecting ourselves to possible mercury poisoning, but CFLs also give off ultra-violet radiation. According to Britain’s Health Protection Agency, exposure to the amount of UV radiation from a CFL is equivalent to exposing our bare skin to UV radiation outside on a hot summer day. Whenever in close proximity to the bulb, we are more susceptible to exposure; but even in another room in the building, the electromagnetic signal travels through the wall along the electric wiring into other rooms, making it inescapable.
These concerns have prompted Canada to look into the situation as well. Health Canada’s director of Consumer and Clinical Radiation Protection Robert Bradley said in an interview that researchers will test whether the bulbs emit any UV rays and, if so, how intense they are.

The central person petitioning the bulbs to Health Canada is Dr. Magda Havas, an Environmental and Resource Studies PhD at Trent University in Canada. Havas’ research into CFLs included various methods to test the power of radiation given off by the bulbs. If there aren’t any other electromagnetic sources, CFLs, or computers interfering with an AM radio system, you can find out which CFL emits more radiation. The closer to the radio that the CFL gets, the more the noise increases; that indicates a large amount of electromagnetic waves being emitted. Incandescent bulbs make little or no effect on the radio.

To top it all off, CFLs cause numerous health effects: many people all over the US, Britain, and Canada have reported severe symptoms of rashes, headaches, and insomnia whenever in the presence of a CFL. The side effects can vary in severity, but results could include lost jobs, isolation, and other health problems offset by the original CFL symptoms. While some doctors choose not to address the sickness as being offset by CFLs, others have noticed similar effects among their patients. The doctors who do have suspicions about the CFLs have noted the differences in their patients after the recommendation of switching back to incandescent bulbs. If someone insists on using CFLs, then they shouldn’t be exposed to it for more than an hour a day.

We’re trying to save our environment, and this was one of the famous ways to do so. So let’s try and get this in one sentence: CFLs reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but they are dangerous to our health if we use them as our central light source. But surely scientists do their research?

It seems like one of those things which are great when they start, but a few years later scientific studies retract their ideas. Obviously, any marketing scheme – particularly an eco-friendly one – is based on scientific research, and so that’s why we trust the companies. The research about CFLs concentrated on how they will affect global warming; in that sense, CFLs are good. We really do want to help our environment, but CFLs can only be used in moderation because of the effects on our health.

While there are recommendations to change all household lights to CFLs, it is actually better to limit the use of them. That way we aren’t being exposed to radiation in every room of the house. Another method to help limit the effects is to purchase CFL covers: they are covers which look like the round incandescent bulbs which can be easily fit on top of CFLs. The cover does not prevent the radiation from spreading, but it decreases the amount of radiation given off.

As for bulbs breaking – just be careful not to let them break! Of course, if you really think that’s a hard feat to manage, try finding a brand that has double layers: one tube containing the mercury and another outer tube that would break instead of the mercury-containing one. Even with the two layers though, there are possibilities that the inner tube will also fracture and release mercury. Again, just do your best not to let them break.

There are definitely many health-related effects, and the American and British governments are being petitioned to warn the public about and to take measure to prevent the dangers that CFLs pose. Governments want to ban incandescent for the use of CFLs by 2012, but they are being pressured to perfect the CFLs before then. Until full investigations take place, it makes sense to use the CFLs in moderation and with precaution…of course, in a few years there could be another “scientific discovery” about how CFLs were actually adding to pollution all along, and we’ll have to find another solution!

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  • Sayed Aatif

    You know how ridiculously hard it is to clean up after a CFL bulb breaking? I dropped one in my kitchen a few months ago and it was chaos! The bulbs don’t just break like normal bulbs, the fragments EXPLODE in all directions.

    After breaking the bulb, I looked up online and found the following directions.

    A person has to immediately ventilate the area, then after some time carefully squeegee the fragments with a stiff piece of cardboard into a plastic bag. After sealing this bag, they need to put it in yet ANOTHER bag, put the gloves in there and seal that too!

    Never again! I’ll live with lower wattage bulbs and keep repeating the mantra that darkness is aesthetically pleasing anyways …

  • Sayed Aatif

    Oh, by the way, the above might not sound so bad, but if you consider it took nearly an hour to clean that one bulb, you’ll get an idea of how many pieces were scattered throughout the kitchen. Drama!

  • masooma

    This evokes memories of my childhood when we used to break bulbs on purpose for the cool sound when the vacuum ruptures, and when we used to play with mercury with our bare hands (my dad had a pound of it sitting in his secretary for some reason) because it was so cool how when you spilled it, it made balls because of its high surface tension.

    We didn’t know better and we turned out okay (maybe?)

    The real disaster was when my summer job before 5th grade was to clean house while my parents were at work and I thought to myself “If bleach cleans well and ammonia cleans well, then mixing them together will clean even better!” DON’T try that, kids!

  • Abu Talib

    Can’t they be made safer, without mercury? I’m sure it can. By the way, high fructose corn syrup, which is in so many of our favorite foods and snacks contains mercury too. These companies are so crooked and we consumers are so unaware.

  • Sayed Aatif

    The issue with the mercury in the bulbs is that it vaporizes. It’s one thing to simply touch mercury, it’s quite another to be breathing it in! I looked this up and found that the vaporized mercury goes from the lungs to the brain where it stays and can do a lot of long term damage. Scary, huh?

  • minimadmonkey

    wait a minute, they can’t let stuff like be used by consumers can they? There is a cfl three feet from my face . 🙁

    Should I get rid of it now?

  • salaam

    Why? The mercury isn’t hurting you if it is in the bulb, and the UV is the same or less as if you were outside, as far as I understand it.

  • Tayyaba

    just avoid sitting too close to a cfl for hours on end

  • frequent reader

    How can you “just avoid sitting too close to a cfl for hours on end”? The article says “Whenever in close proximity to the bulb, we are more susceptible to exposure; but even in another room in the building, the electromagnetic signal travels through the wall along the electric wiring into other rooms, making it inescapable.

  • otowi

    When you are close to the bulb, as if, say, trying to tan from it, you receive all the radiation. You’d have to be TRYING to get yourself in dangerous exposure. If UV goes through walls from bulbs, it does from the sun, too, and you’re not really worried about that, are you? Further, as you move away from the bulb, you are receiving a smaller and smaller portion of the radiation, just as you move out farther and farther from the sun, the radiation is less intense on your little piece, even though technically the sun’s radiation continues emanating in all directions for ever, by the time you get to, say, pluto, it isn’t enough to do much. Same thing for any UV light coming from a bulb.

  • otowi

    Most things have hazards associated with them, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use them.
    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dihydrogen_monoxide_hoax

  • frequent reader

    ^ Thanks Otowi, that makes sense. But I wonder how much radiation a whole house filled with such bulbs would have?

  • minimadmonkey

    come to think of it, radiation due to uranium is emitted by practically everything. I think Otowi is right, it should be fine to use the cfls as long as we are not tanning ourselves with them. Although, the author is also right, we should be cautious of technologies that claim to save the environment but might actually be harmful overall.

  • Najiya Rizvi

    nice article! i will not buy those bulbs anymore sr.nabila!

  • gogiison2

    Global warming is a hoax, pushed by Al Gore, and a bunch of other elitists; another way to tax you! Carbon taxes. There’s a book on global warming written by a Rothschild family member:

    If they really were concerned with energy, they would have implemented the energy solutions by Tesla. They’re always trying to make a buck off of something. The technology is there. Kind of like what happened to the electric car. ‘Corporatocracy’ at large.

    Speaking of radiation, what about the airport ‘porno scanners’? There is a huge increase in cancer among the TSA workers. Sunlight is good for your skin, to a certain extent.

    LEDs are another viable option. They’re expensive at the moment, though.

    I personally use a full-spectrum CFL that mimics the natural lighting of the sun. It costs a little more than a CFL, but the colors of sunlight are good for the eyes. Closer to nature is always better!

    I could write more, but I don’t want to make this posting any longer than it is.

  • Nishwa

    I love how the author took only one little aspect of saving the “environment” and applied it to our overall health……brilliant! She ofcourse forgot aspects such as genetically modified food, dangerous chemicals such as PVC’s, HDPE, LDPE, PP, PET and many others that we use on a dialy basis to store our food, our cloths, makeup and many other essential everyday things.