How cynical is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about the potential mercury hazard of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs)?
Last week the EPA issued new guidance for the clean-up of mercury-containing CFLs.
Atypically minimizing any potential health risks and arrogantly assuming that people patronize the agency’s web site, the EPA’s media release states,
CFLs contain a small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing. When a CFL breaks, some of the mercury is released as vapor and may pose potential health risks. The guidance and brochure will provide simple, user friendly directions to help prevent and reduce exposure to people from mercury pollution. [Emphasis added]
But consider that EPA’s “Mercury and Hazardous Chemicals in Schools: A Manual for Students in Southeast Asia” (April 2008) states that:
Just as there are no safe uses of mercury and mercury-containing equipment in schools, there are no safe uses for these products in homes, either. Tell your parents about the toxic effects of mercury, and encourage them to remove all mercury products from your home.
Also consider that EPA says that eating the mercury from a broken thermometer is safer than inhaling mercury vapor (i.e., how you would be exposed to mercury from a broken CFL):
Consider what Brown University researchers had to say in an August 2008 study of CFL breakage published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology:
Some [CFL] lamps are inevitably broken accidentally during shipping, retail sales, consumer use, and recycling and release a portion of their mercury inventory as volatile vapor, which is the dominant mercury form in the early stages of lamp life. Inhalation exposure is a concern because 80% of inhaled [mercury] is physiologically absorbed.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) occupational exposure limit (8 h, 5-day week time average) is 100 [micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3)].
- The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommended exposure limit is 50 μg/m3, while American Conference of Governmental and Industrial Hygienists recommends 25 μg/m3 under the same conditions.
- Because children are more susceptible, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) recommends 0.2 μg/m3 level as a safe continual exposure limit for children.
As an illustration of the effects of CFL breakage, the release of only 1 mg of [mercury] vapor (~20% of the Hg inventory in a single CFL) into a 500 m3 room (10 × 10 × 5m) yields 2.0 μg/m3 or ten times the ATSDR-recommended level of 0.2 μg/m3 in the absence of ventilation. [Footnotes omitted, and bullets and emphasis added]
Would you rather be exposed to possibly thousands of more times mercury than the EPA says is safe or….
… or would you rather have your power plant emit an extra ounce or so of carbon dioxide per hour of bulb use?