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Are Green Light Bulbs Dangerous?

Q. Although they save money, I’ve heard that energy-efficient light bulbs are dangerous. True?

A. Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) contain a small amount of mercury, and you need to take precautions if they break. But reports of the risk of these energy-efficient bulbs, which last 10 times longer and use up to 75 percent less energy than similar incandescent bulbs, are greatly exaggerated on the rumor mill and in alarmist bulk-sent e-mails.

In reality, a CFL light bulb contains between 1.4 and 4 milligrams of mercury within its glass tubing; by comparison, older thermometers have about 500 milligrams. There is no risk of mercury exposure unless a CFL breaks, and if that occurs, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends that you open windows, shut off any heating/air conditioning system and leave the room for at least 15 minutes. Wear disposable gloves and use cardboard, tape or a damp paper towel to pick up broken pieces (a vacuum can spread mercury into the air). Then place bulb remnants in a sealed plastic bag, place that into another plastic bag, and discard in the trash. Burned-out but intact CFLs should be recycled at local centers.

The federal Energy Star program offers information on CFLs and mercury and additional details on CFL cleanup and disposal.


Sid Kirchheimer writes about consumer and health issues.

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