Question

Should I worry about the mercury in fluorescent light bulbs?

Asked by Craig Dunlappe, Albany, CA

I know that fluorescent lights are more energy efficient than standard light bulbs, but I’ve heard that they have mercury in them. Are they still a better choice for the environment?

Answer

Eric Corey Freed

Answered by Eric Corey Freed

San Francisco, CA

Organic ARCHITECT

July 31, 2007

CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) contain a small quantity of mercury—usually about 4 to 5 milligrams.

  • But the more important fact to remember is that choosing fluorescents over standard incandescent bulbs will reduce the amount of mercury pumped into the air by coal-fired power plants.
  • Over the same time period, using an incandescent bulb will result in 10 milligrams of mercury air pollution versus just 2.4 milligrams for a CFL.

Although there’s only a little bit of mercury in each CFL, you should never throw a fluorescent light bulb in the trash.

  • When CFLs wind up in a landfill, they can contaminate groundwater. Mercury is toxic even in very small amounts, and it builds up in the food chain.
  • To find a mercury recycler or disposal facility near you, call 1-800-CLEAN-UP, an automated hotline, or visit earth911.org and use the "Find a Recycling Center" search bar at the top of the page.

If you are concerned about the amount of mercury in the CFLs in your home, I recommend using Philips Marathon bulbs. Philips has pioneered a technology that reduces the mercury content of fluorescent lights. Other brands of low-mercury CFLs will be on the market soon.

 

For more information:

Energy Star’s FAQ on CFLs and mercury

The EPA’s fact sheet on mercury in CFLs

EnviroZine's Q&A on CFLs and mercury

Inform, Inc.'s fact sheet on mercury in fluorescent lamps

North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ roundup of facts on mercury in CFLs

Tagged In: lca, cfl, lighting

Do you have a question about greening your home? GreenHomeGuide invites you to Ask A Pro. Let our network of experienced green building professionals – architects, designers, contractors, electricians, energy experts, landscapers, tile & stone specialists, and more – help you find the right solution.