Why I say “Ban the CFL”

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cfls-mercuryFor day 45 it was all about low energy bulbs.

The advice read “Replace the light bulb you removed at the start of the Carbon Fast, but only after considering whether you really need it. If you do, replace it with a compact fluorescent lamp (CFL), which can save 150 lbs. of carbon dioxide a year. And since the book of Romans tells us that “Love does no harm to its neighbor”, why not help someone else cut their emissions by giving them a CFL as a gift as well?”

Here’s something I won’t be doing, not because I don’t need a replacement bulb but because I feel the need to speak out about CFLs.

To me, the CFL is a prime example of the eco friendly Emperors new clothes.

Most people change from incandescent bulbs to CFLs as one of the first steps of their eco friendly journey. I did the same but I was soon dis-enamoured. not only could I not bear the yellowy tinge to the light but I started to get headaches and dizziness.

After a few months I read some research which, like all research showed ‘evidence’ both for and against this speculation. Then I saw further stories about a link between CFls and skin cancer.

Next I got concerned about the levels of mercury in CFL bulbs – a tiny amount I’ll grant you but when all those bulbs finally run out and are disposed of, how much mercury will we collectively release into the earth and air?
Mr green had a CFL shatter on him and we discovered advice was to vacate the room for 15 minutes, wear gloves, put the bulb in a plastic bag, seal it and dispose of it safely. Most people, however, sweep everything up and toss it in the trash.

Now cigarettes carry a huge ‘Smoking kills’ warning on the packet and I’d like to be radical and suggest we have something similar on CFL bulbs about the mercury content because the latest story is that scientists have found energy saving bulbs release cancer causing chemicals.  The advice is that CFLs should not be left on for long periods of time or placed close to a person’s head because they release poisonous materials. That rules out your eco friendly reading light then…

If I can’t make up my mind about something then I usually look to nature for the answers. By observing animals you can usually detect what is going on. According to Mercola some consumers complain that their pets react adversely to CFL bulbs such as dogs barking at the ceiling and becoming increasingly agitated in rooms containing CFLs. Some believe these bulbs produce an ultrasonic noise that disturbs animals.

Oh yes, to top it all off, CFLs gradually dim as they wear out, but they can also finally give a ‘pop’ and give off an odour as well as smoke – I wonder what that smoke is as the bulb draws its final breath?

And that, my friends, is why I shall be sticking to my incandescents with a dimmer switch and gradually replacing the whole house to solar powered LEDs. It’s also why I most certainly will NOT be gifting my loved ones a CFL.

How many CFLs do you have in your home?


  1. Seonaid on May 3, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    A lot. There are 5 in this room alone. But they haven’t lasted as long as they were supposed to. Last time I checked for LED’s, they weren’t up to snuff yet, and they still cost about $50 per bulb, but that was some time ago. I’ll be reconsidering, I guess.

  2. lighthouse on May 3, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Have 2 of them…

    But that’s not all the problems with CFLs, or even LEDs!

    For example,
    there’s the CFL Fire risk,
    and Lead and Arsenic issues with LEDs:
    with references

    The “You Can Use Halogens” argument does not hold either:
    Replacement type halogens are only temporarily allowed (until 2016 EU, 2020 USA), will be in a smaller range,
    with a whiter light and constructional differences, apart from costing much more for small savings, which is why neither governments or consumers like them, as they have been around a while without being bought, and are not generally available in post-ban UK or the EU,
    the push being to buy CFLs in all the main stores.

    The further irony is that the popularity,
    being about 4 out of 5 bulbs bought, is the reason for the ban:
    No “Big Savings” from banning what people don’t like!

    People don’t save that much in switching anyway.
    One reason is that the heat can be useful as background room heat,
    another is that common cheaper CFLs draw twice the energy from the power plant than what your meter suggests – but users of course have to pay for that eventually too
    (look up CFL “power factor” online, or
    with more about the lack of savings from the ban)

  3. Courtney Wantink on May 3, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    Hmm…this is interesting. My family has replaced all of our lightbulbs with CFLs- I never knew there were so many potential issues with them! The cynic in me says that everything seems to cause cancer these days, but there’s no denying that mercury is dangerous. I suppose it’s time to go solar powered. Thanks for the article!

  4. Jennifer on May 4, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    Not that many, actually — maybe two or three altogether, and we rarely use them. I didn’t like the quality of light, so I justified continuing to use my incandescents because I already had them around; might as well use them up. Two years later, they’re still working, so I still haven’t replaced them. I’ve often felt like a bad greenie for not doing so, but now I might as well wait it out until LED lighting comes into its own.

  5. Mrs Green on May 6, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    @Seonaid: it’s a challenge for sure because the LED technology just hasn’t caught up yet…
    @lighthouse: gosh, thanks for all that info and the links – I’ll be sure to have a read.
    @Courtney Wantink: I know what you mean; it’s easy to feel that everything we do is riddled with something bad – I guess we have to read both sides of the argument and choose what feels right for us as individuals… there is no right and wrong.
    @Jennifer: I think we should use up the resources we already have for sure, no point buying new for the sake of it. That’s why I was annoyed the other week when I was encouraged by the Govt to buy a new car in order to cut emissions – huhn?!

  6. Andrea Carrazana on May 31, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Wow! A very informative article. I knew that CFL’s had to be handles with gloves if they broke, but I didn’t know all that other stuff. Good thing I haven’t made the switch yet…

  7. Mrs Green on June 3, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    @Andrea Carrazana: Hi Andrea, welcome! Glad you haven’t made the switch; what do you think you might do when your incandescents run out?

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