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I don’t know whether you’ve been paying attention to the press lately, but the media are jumping on environmental subjects like vultures. That was the case for energy saving lamps. Some British study or other has exposed that those lamps are very dangerous when dropped. The room needs to be aired for at least 15 minutes and one can’t touch it bare handed due to the mercury. I don’t need a study to tell me that. In fact energy saving lamps are nothing more or less than a compact version of fluorescent lamps.

What makes a (C)FL  give light?
A FL is a tube that is covered inside with a fluorescent material that contains inert gasses like krypton or argon and mercury-vapour. Between the two electrodes a corona discharge occurs which leads to the mercury-vapour emitting a UV light. The fluorescent material will convert the UV to visible light. The electric current in a CFL collides with a mercury atom pushing another electron out of its orbit. When such electrons revert from a beaten to a base state, UV light is produced, and is converted by the fluorescent state.

Therefore CFLs as such are not more or less dangerous than FLs. The incandescent filament in the latter contains barium, but I didn’t notice any fuss about that. By the way, how much mercury does an energy saving lamp contain? Well, it’s no more than 2 to 5 milligrams. Let’s do the classic comparison of the  mercury (vapour) emitted by a classic bulb and an energy saving lamp, both powered by a classic coal power plant over 5 years. A classic bulb will have an emission of 10 mg and a CFL will result in 6.4 (4.0 mg of its own).  Yes, the comparison is based on coal plants which also have a high CO2 emission too, but are nuclear plants really hat safe? The nuclear waste is, in my opinion, very dangerous, even if many governments think that nuclear energy can solve the CO2 emission problem, or should I say allow them to reach their quotas. Again, the end justifies the means.

Are there any alternatives? Sure, there are FLs which use indium halides instead of mercury and many manufacturers produce CFLs with xenon instead of mercury, despite the fact that the conduction is less and therefore is it less power efficient. You can also opt for LED lights instead, where applicable, taking the cost and light intensity limitations into account. Even high capacity 6W powerLED bulb can have a maximum of 350 lumen. There is also controversy about the electro magnetic fields.
So we need to stick to the CFLs and there is no reason for not choosing them. All the cliché excuses don’t count anymore:

  1. The unpleasant light is long history. There are lamps available which produce 2700 Kelvin aka warm white 
  2. They are bulky and ugly. Not true. E.g. the 9W (equivalent for 45W classic bulb) bulb version is even much smaller than their classic counterpart.
  3. They are very expensive. Blame the EU for this, since part a part of the ‘high’ price is caused by EU import taxes aka anti-dumping duties in order to protect the European light industry. If the EU is serious about their recent climate plan, they should stop these pestiferous ambiguities!
    Nevertheless, CFLs aren’t more expensive than classic bulbs since they have a life span of 15000 hours which is 15 times more than a classic bulb according to IEC 60969 standards and use 5 times less energy
  4. They are dangerous. Not entirely true (see above). When buying them, keep the following in mind:
    1. Buy bulb versions, the tube is then protected by a bulb. If they fall accidentally, the bulb will absorb most of the shock.
    2. Buy ROHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) labeled lamps
    3. Buy lamps which guarantee glass AND Hg (mercury) protection

Those lamps don’t exist? Well they do; I bought one yesterday in a general DIY store and not even in a specialist light centre.

And last but not least, it is very important to bring defect (C)FLs to the container park for recycling. In Belgium, since July 1st 2005, we have had to pay an extra 0,3 Euro for each lamp bought. This guarantees a duty of acceptance and recycling by the container parks where one can deposit the(C)FLs  for free.  

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