7 On Your Side: Shedding Light on CFL Bulbs - KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

7/16/07-Tyler

7 On Your Side: Shedding Light on CFL Bulbs

You've likely seen CFL's on store shelves by now. They're the funny shaped light bulb that in some cases uses 75% less energy to light up a room.

"If I have 50 of these, that's a big savings in electric use," says Dr. Larry Lowry, an environmental health specialist at UT Health Center at Tyler.

He showed us how the bulbs work. Incandescent bulbs heat a filament to generate light. A CFL bulb uses the element mercury to produce an invisible ultraviolet light. That light hits the white coating inside the bulb and changes it into light you can see.

But it's the mercury that comes into question. When CFL bulbs break, the mercury vapor can be released. When that vapor is inhaled, it can be toxic.

"It goes back to the basic principle of toxicology. The dose makes the poison. You get enough of a dose then it's a poison," says Dr. Lowry.

But CFL's only need five milligrams of mercury to work which is equivalent to the tip of a ball point pen.

Dr. Lowry says glass from a broken CFL bulb poses a greater risk than the exposure to the mercury itself.

"The risk really is if you have 50 of these to dispose of. You have 50 of these that are broken or you have a very large number. One broken compact fluorescent is inconsequential," says Dr. Lowry.

It's important to note though how to dispose of CFL bulbs, especially when they break:

1. Open a window and the leave the room for at least 15 minutes.

2. Carefully scoop up the fragments and powder with stiff paper or cardboard--sticky tape is also helpful in this process.

3. Wipe the area clean with a damp cloth and seal all materials in a plastic bag.

4. Finally wash your hands.

5. Do not use a vacuum to clean up a broken CFL bulb... That will produce mercury vapors that are not safe when inhaled.

Dr. Lowry adds another piece of advice,"If you burn your trash don't burn these. Bury them or dispose of them in some way."

Dr. Lowry says he owns several of these bulbs himself and has yet to break any one of them. Consumers should have some comfort knowing the threat of fluorescent lights' mercury is dim.

Dr. Larry Lowry also suggests being careful when removing CFL's from a socket. You should hold it by the ballast, the plastic piece below the glass.

These bulbs also don't get nearly as hot as the incandescents.

Christine Nelson reporting. cnelson@kltv.com

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