We have all been encouraged to switch from energy-sucking incandescent light bulbs to energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs in the interest of preserving the environment. But a new study says that these supposedly green bulbs may actually be posing a health risk in themselves.
The problem is not while the bulbs are in use, but when they’re broken. When a compact fluorescent bulb breaks, it can release a cloud of toxic vapor. The vapor contains over 20 times the recommended safe level of mercury intake. The risk is particularly high, say the authors of the research, for pregnant women and small children.
These findings are particularly concerning as a number of government energy saving initiatives actually dictate the replacement of incandescent bulbs with more energy efficient choices. Brazil and Venezuela have been phasing incandescent bulbs out since 2001. The European Union, Switzerland,and Australia began phasing them out last year. And scheduled phase-outs are set for the next few years in Argentina, Russia, Canada, and Malaysia.
Although there have been many reassurances about the safety of these bulbs, a recent study in Germany suggests that there could indeed be a risk of mercury exposure. According to an article in the Daily Mail, “Scientists at the Fraunhofer Wilhelm Klauditz Institute found that compact fluorescent bulbs released around 7 micrograms (there are 1,000 micrograms in a milligram)] per cubic metre of air. The official guideline limit is 0.35 micrograms per cubic metre.” Some bulbs have protective covers to prevent this, but others do not. High mercury levels were measured at the site of an unprotected broken CFL bulb up to 5 hours after breakage. The Klauditz Institute recommends that pregnant women avoid contact with bulbs if broken, and leave the area if possible.