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Dear Willie: I’ve read that compact fluorescent bulbs are better for the environment because they use less energy. But I’ve also read that they contain mercury. Are they really safe to use?

Dear Wilma:

Compact Fluorescent light bulbs, known as CFLs, use up to 75 percent less energy than traditional incandescent light bulbs and last up to 10 times longer. They are really a great way to save energy and your co-op encourages members to replace bulbs as needed with CFLs.

Though the bulbs do indeed contain mercury, it’s a very minimal amount, about 5 milligrams. To give a point of reference, mercury thermometers contain 500 milligrams and older thermostats contained 3,000 milligrams. Also, consider that coal-fired power plants naturally produce mercury and will emit about 10 milligrams of mercury to power a traditional incandescent bulb and only 2.4 milligrams to run a CFL for the same time period.

How to dispose of a CFL:

Because they do contain mercury, you should be careful when disposing of burned out or broken CFLs.

Place burned out bulbs you’re replacing in a sealed plastic bag and dispose of in your regular trash. If you’re lucky enough to have a local household hazardous waste collection site that accepts the bulbs, you can take them there. These sites are becoming more common as CFLs gain in popularity. Call 877-earth-911 or visit or to see if there is a collection site near you. Don’t place burned out bulbs in an incinerator or burn barrel.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there is no immediate health risk to you if a bulb breaks and you clean it up properly. Here’s what to do: open a window if you can; use a damp paper towel to pick up broken pieces and stray shards or particles; place the towel and pieces in a sealed plastic bag and dispose of as I described above. Don’t use a vacuum cleaner or your bare hands to handle the materials.


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© 2008 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

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