A compact conundrum

CFLCompact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFLs) offer two significant advantages over their counterparts such as halogens and incandescents: they put out the same amount of light at lower current, and typically last longer.

These characteristics have led to CFLs becoming a lauded centerpiece to environmental responsibility, touted by many groups as the long-overdue and obvious evolutionary replacement for technologies in place since the 1800s.

But what’s omitted from common propaganda about CFLs is the fact that these bulbs come loaded– with toxins.  Mercury, a poisonous metal long known to interfere with animal neurological systems, is a basic component of CFLs.  In addition, there is evidence to strongly suggest living and working solely under flourescent lighting is unhealthy, both physically and mentally.

Those details are especially troubling given recent legal developments.  Legislative and regulatory bodies worldwide are moving to ban traditional light sources and promote fluourescents as the singular lighting solution (one example here).

The mercury problem does not need to be a showstopper– many communities require those bulbs to be placed into recycling bins so that they avoid landfills.  I won’t go into any pitfalls associated with that process but suffice to say if the proper controls are in place that is responsible disposal.

But disposition only addresses one problematic aspect.  Typical fluourescent bulbs do not sufficiently cover the light spectrum that humans (and household plants) require for good health.  Flicker from these bulbs is also an issue, known to induce fatigue.  Recently these bulbs are being investigated for harmful radiation emission.

It’s obvious to me that forcing a CFL-only policy on people is not the way to go.  CFLs make sense in closets, garages and other portions of a home where they have minimal impact on the occupants.  And of course their use in any apsect needs to be coupled with a well-managed disposal process.

But we need to look instead at other alternatives for a true solution.  Forget technology for a moment– the ages-old standby of glass alone offers a significant benefit.  Windows, skylights and solar tubes can offset electrical consumption and improve the health of building dwellers.  And since that alone doesn’t provide all of the indoor lighting we require, let’s put much more effort into the technological prospects such as Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs).

We certainly need to work at reducing our energy consumption across the board.  More efficient lighting is of course a promising and necessary component of any reasonable strategy in that regard.  But along with that comes the need to look at the end-to-end process and minimize or hopefully eliminate unnecessary risk.  To that end, I’d like to see this rush to eliminate traditional bulbs stopped in its tracks… and replaced with more sensible policy.  One can dream.

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