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.
Sid Kirchheimer writes about consumer and health issues.