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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