Environmental groups from New York to California are taking a pledge to consider only the “greenest” CFLs when making purchases for office use and during compact fluorescent lamp giveaways. The new “Green Lighting Campaign” intends to promote more sustainable lighting practices such as recycling, rather than throwing lamps containing mercury in the trash. Toxic levels in lamps have created concerns when the lamps are produced, transported, installed, broken or disposed of, say advocates. Absent mercury content reductions and manufacturing dosing improvements, global mercury use will increase with expanding fluorescent lighting use, and negate dramatic mercury reductions anticipated in most other sectors. Offered by a coalition of groups (see press release), the guidance and pledge have other organizations considering steps to include more than energy efficiency when determining their lighting purchases.
Millions of lamps are purchased every year, a decision typically made by a handful of people. Many work with or in non-profit groups, who then distribute them to the public. Lamp giveaways are held to help educate and motivate the public around issues of energy efficiency and climate change. By making these purchases influence more than the climate change issue, the Green Lighting Campaign seeks to influence the overall market for lighting products. “As we choose compact fluorescent lamps to combat global warming, we can and should reduce toxic pollution at the same time,” said Bill Magavern, Director of Sierra Club California. “The Green Lighting Campaign seeks to protect households and workers from both mercury pollution and climate change.”
Tests conducted by the State of Maine (see FAQ and Clean-Up Instructions) confirm earlier states findings suggesting that under certain conditions mercury vapor released from a broken compact fluorescent lamp can pose a health risk. As a precaution, states like Vermont and Massachusetts are now suggesting removal of carpeting where breakage has occurred where there are infants and pregnant women present. A report MPP released today recommends that sensitive populations should take extra precautions to reduce risks associated with breakage, but says that CFLs generally can and should still be used in everyone’s homes until a nontoxic light bulb becomes available. The report also recommends the adoption of more comprehensive environmental and human health guidelines by decision makers that, in addition to energy-efficiency, address other concerns, including:
- Reduced toxicity while maintaining performance;
- Improved breakage resistance and longer lamp life (which can reduce manufacturing, transportation and disposal impacts);
- Sustainable manufacturing processes (such as the use of encapsulated mercury-dosing technologies);
- Responsible end-of-life management (particularly through producer responsibility in funding lamp collection and retailer collection programs)
- Innovative technologies such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that use less- or non-toxic materials, that have significantly longer life, are much more efficient for certain applications, and/or that offer other measurable environmental benefits.
In response to the Maine CFL breakage study, the US EPA has made some changes to its CFL clean up guidance.
However, according to MPP Director Bender, the EPA advice could be readily improved through following new state guidance which 1) recommends against vacuuming and 2) instead favors cleaning up the debris with cardboard and sticky tape and quickly removing it from the home, so as to 3) minimize vaporization of mercury.