Great – I just start buying CFBs to increase my energy efficiency and reduce my carbon footprint, and now we discover that CFBs are serious sources of mercury pollution.
I recall arguing with a member of the East Lake Washington Audubon Society several years ago about a Seattle-area referendum on high-speed rail. Although I do not remember the details of the argument anymore, I do recall two specific things: (1) one of his questions of me was, “Richard, do you want to go back to horse-drawn transportation?” and (2) I (immaturely) ceased my volunteer work with ELWAS.
I think I can answer the question now: “Yes, I do want to go back in many respects.” Going forward is not really going forward when we defeat the purpose of our progress with the insidious nature of our “improvements.” I think of things such as depleted uranium munitions (not that we should have munitions for any goddamned purpose), the internal combustion engine, or these new compact fluorescent bulbs. And what about all the toxins in our new-fangled computing equipment? And intensive agriculture has to be one of the most insidious developments of the industrial age. The list seems endless.
Good luck to all of us in the coming years – we’re gonna need it. Our ingenuity doesn’t seem to be helping us one bit.
Richard Jehn / The Rag Blog
Loaded with Mercury: Casual Threats
By RICHARD RHAMES
“The public awareness has been raised by the sequential wave of experiences … Including mercury exposure from additives, fish, contaminated air, bird deaths from eating mercury-contaminated seed grains, dental amalgam leakage, mercury allergy, etc … .” Dr. Maurice Hilleman, 1991
Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection led the nation in its recent study of mercury loosed by compact florescent light bulb (CFL) breakage. The DEP is very clear that the overall environmental impacts of reducing carbon emissions through more energy efficient lighting is positive and substantial. Still, since CFLs contain a potent neurotoxin, mercury, staffers in the Bureau of Remediation and Waste Management wanted to offer Maine citizens good advice just in case they dropped a bulb and had an unexpected “release” in their homes.
So they studied the matter. Their February 2008 report explains, “Forty five (45) experimental trials where … CFLs were broken in a small/ moderate sized room were conducted in May through September of 2007.” Various cleanup procedures were followed. Importantly, “[t]he mercury concentrations at the five foot height (adult breathing zone) and one foot height (infant/ toddler breathing zone) above the study room floor were continuously monitored.”
Though the amount of mercury in a CFL is small —-5 milligrams (“enough to fit on the tip of a ball-point pen”), much of that may be in vapor form. But when a bulb is broken there is a “burst” of neurotoxin often driving mercury levels in room air well above the Maine standard of 300 nanograms per cubic meter. Spikes of 25,000 nanograms, 50,000 to perhaps over 100,000 nanograms were measured. Spikes sometimes recurred after ventilation ceased and after vacuuming.
“Consumers,” the report advised, ” … may consider not utilizing florescent lamps in … bedrooms or over carpeted areas frequented by infants, small children or pregnant women … .”
The DEP is to be congratulated for their ground breaking (bulb breaking) work. It’s a real contribution to better understanding the casual threats to life in our times. Exposing the next generation or their pregnant moms to mercury just isn’t a good idea. The metal’s catastrophic impact on the brain and central nervous system is well understood.
Read the rest here.