Getting down to the brass tacks of mercury.

Posted by Jonathan Elliott

One very common source of wasted energy is the light bulb. Yes, I know, you’ve heard a million times “CFL’s save a lot of energy”. And I’m not here to list for you the reasons you should switch, rather, I’m here to dispel one of the reasons you shouldn’t… mercury.

There has been some confusion on this issue. Some people will have you believe that the mercury levels contained inside of a CFL are highly dangerous, or that the environmental impact of using them outweighs the benefits.

Well, according to EnergyStar and EPA Canada, both of those arguments are incorrect. The amount of mercury inside of a standard CFL is 4mg. This, compared to the 500mg contained in an old thermometer, or even the 13mg that is emitted by a power plant to produce power for the lifetime of a regular bulb. Yes, that's right, it produces more mercury to power a regular light bulb than is contained inside of a CFL. Even your LCD television screen cumulatively accounts for almost 4 times as much mercury, and contains almost as much inside of it as a CFL.

However, you're not likely to be breaking your LCD screen now, are you? It's alright. If you do break a CFL bulb, there are a few very simple steps to follow, which boil down to airing out the room, disposing of all materials used to clean up the mess (and yes, this means the vacuum bag too), and checking with your local or state disposal policy regarding fluorescent bulbs. If they don't allow it, Home Depot will dispose of your bulbs for you.

Even better, more and more companies are coming out with low-mercury CFL's, dimmable CFL's, and plastic safety covers to prevent your bulbs from breaking in the first place.

Awareness is the key, but don't let it keep you from doing something that will actually help the environment, and help your wallet as well.