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.
As a result of its findings from a November 14, 2007 hearing at which MPP Director Bender testified, the US House Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is conducting an investigation into the work of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine if EPA has underestimated mercury emissions related to dental use of mercury. The Subcommittee’s hearing revealed significant disparities between the agency’s data for mercury emissions related to dental use of mercury and other estimates. EPA has even expressed a lack of confidence in some of its estimates. Furthermore, there are a number of other emissions pathways for which EPA has failed to develop any estimates, as the attached letter from the Subcommittee to EPA Administrator Steve Johnson outlines. It its letter, Chairman Dennis Kucinich requests that EPA provide specific information to the Committee no later than Feb.29, 2008.
Advocates applauded the work of a Vermont House Committee which passed out two important bills on mercury that will significantly reduce pollution. The first requires dentists to have patients sign a consent form before receiving any procedure involving mercury amalgam, which informs them of the potential hazards to human health. The second requires a $5 cash incentive be provided by the manufacturer to contractors that turn in mercury-containing thermostats for recycling. “Informed consent will empower Vermonters to just say no to mercury amalgam, and in the process this will help reduce mercury pollution,” said MPP director Bender in a statement. “It also provides patients with the same information that many dentists have already received from manufacturers, which states that ‘The use of amalgam in contraindicated…In children 6 and under….(and)…. in expectant mothers‘”. The news was picked up in a Vermont newspaper.