Due to the recent Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the federal government is outlawing certain incandescent bulbs starting in less than one year. And in California it has already started.
Starting in 2012, "general service incandescent lamps" (according to the government this means a standard incandescent or halogen type lamp) will have to be at least 30% more energy efficient than today's incandescent versions.
This phase out of existing technology incandescent bulbs will start with the 100 watt bulb on 1/1/2012 (1/1/2011 for California), the 75 watt bulb on 1/1/2013; and the 60 watt and 40 watt bulbs on 1/1/2014. By 2020 all bulbs will have to be at least 70% more efficient than today's incandescent bulbs.
The law was designed to make CFL's the de-facto standard in lighting, and because of this law you've seen the hyping of CFL's like never before. In fact, the 2007 Energy Bill contained $40,000,000 to "educate" you to make "make energy-efficient lighting choices." I've been using CFL's since 2006 when we built our Energy Star compliant home because they were the only commercial technology available for some energy conserving lighting applications. As I used them, then had to replace them years before they were supposed to fail, and then tried to recycle them, I can now say that I view these things in a very dim light (pun intended).
CFL's contain the neurotoxin known as mercury in a vapor form, and are anything but "green." Proponents like to dismiss the "small" amount of mercury in a CFL but I'll get to that misleading argument in a moment. CFL's are not made in the USA. They are almost exclusively made in China with plants powered by dirty coal.
A recent 2009 study by the United States Agency for International Development found that of the 300+ CFL manufacturers in China, only 40% produce CFLs that meet the national standards. China does not regulate the production of its exports. That means laws and regulations the Chinese have for products sold within China do not apply to exported products, and more than 70% of China's CFL production is exported.
So "Green Jobs" get created in China as companies like GE closed their Winchester, VA manufacturing plant in 2010 and shipped jobs to China. CFL's are an environmental hazard from their production, to their breakage in the home, to the waste stream they create. As GE workers ironically joke "It's illegal to dump mercury in the river, but not in the landfill."
CFL's have over 40 different components and electronic parts which are prone to failure and quality control issues, and to this day have had many problems including:
- fire risk,
- fire and shock hazard,
- lasting a fraction of the life claimed,
- UV emissions,
- need for government or utility subsidies to artificially reduce initial cost,
- emerging health risks,
- and so on...
So what about the mercury in our little "green" Neurotoxin Light Bulb? One of the myths in the pro-CFL hype is the lack of danger in a broken CFL because of the "small" amount of mercury it contains. Proponents like to make the apple and orange comparison of a CFL breaking to a mercury thermometer breaking. However there is a big difference between mercury vapor as found in a CFL and liquid mercury in its normal state as found in a thermometer. The EPA itself states:
"It is not uncommon for children to break fever thermometers in their mouths. Mercury that is swallowed in such cases poses low risk comparison to the risk of breathing mercury vapor."
The risk posed by inhaling mercury vapor is real and those who try to pretend the risk does not exist because an unsafe CFL does not fit their narrative or corporate interests are irresponsible at best. The risk is exacerbated when a CFL breaks in an enclosed room, such as a bedroom.
In February 2008 the State of Maine conducted extensive real-world tests on the mercury vapor levels encountered with a broken CFL. They conducted 45 different tests and the results showed mercury levels in the room to be over 300 times the maximum allowable exposure levels, with mercury levels then falling if the room is vented and rebounding again when the room is closed up:
"Mercury concentration in the study room air often exceeds the Maine Ambient Air Guideline (MAAG) of 300 nanograms per cubic meter (ng/m3) for some period of time, with short excursions over 25,000 ng/m3, sometimes over 50,000 ng/m3, and possibly over 100,000 ng/m3 from the breakage of a single compact fluorescent lamp."
You cannot vacuum up the breakage. The study states:
"Cleaning up a broken CFL by vacuuming up the smaller debris particles in an un-vented room can elevate mercury concentrations over the MAAG in the room and it can linger at these levels for hours."
And replacing your carpeting? Well, they leave that up to you to decide:
"The decision on whether or not to remove carpet where there was a broken lamp may depend on a number of factors including the location of the carpet (e.g. where a child plays or where the carpet is frequently agitated), the occupants of the household, or possibly the type of lamp broken."
The EPA has a specific 12-point hazardous material clean-up plan you need to follow if you break a CFL in your home. I outline the steps for you in the tutorial How to Clean Up a Broken CFL.
The process outlined by the EPA for cleaning up one of these "safe" bulbs involves ventilating the room (a problem in winter), duct tape, a glass jar, cardboard, plastic bags, and other extraordinary steps and materials.
So where does that all leave us? Well, beside LED lighting, new lighting technology development continues. One promising technology is the Hybrid Electric Lamp being developed at the University of Rochester which uses a "newly-developed method for nearly doubling the efficiency of an incandescent by blackening the tungsten filament with a short pulse laser."
Other incandescent derivative lighting available today uses deposition coating technology to gain efficiencies, such as with the Halogena Line of lighting by Phillips. These bulbs contain no mercury, are dimmable, last twice as long and produce as much light as today's incandescents but with over 30% less energy.
At the end of the day innovation will prevail and I believe we will end up with an incandescent derivative lamp and not a little "green" Neurotoxin Light Bulb as the solution.