CFLs: Stopping at the “Green” Lights

Usually Heartland Healing relishes sharing information and ideas with its readers. This week there was a touch of reluctance. More on that later. You can get lit but you can’t get a light. Try to buy a 100-watt light bulb in California. Go on, I dare ya. You won’t find one because they became illegal in January of this year. Up and down the Golden State, you can buy dope at your local medicinal marijuana clinic but you can’t buy a 100-watter at Home Depot. Minus the weed clinics, it’ll be the same in Nebraska next year. Within two years, nearly all of the type of electric bulb that has served us well for the past century-plus will be out of the marketplace. A simple-to-make, time-tested technology will be scrapped and replaced by a complex, chemical-laden experiment in lighting that is at best a stopgap measure. Compact fluorescent lights or CFLs, are being foisted upon the public by legal dictate beginning in 2012. Federal law stipulates that starting next year, all light bulbs must use 30 percent less energy and that means the light bulb as Thomas Edison invented it, the incandescent variety that we have known and used for 150 years, will be a thing of the past. Oh, we aren’t forced to use CFLs. They just happen to be the most affordable (though still far more expensive than incandescents,) and the most available. To paraphrase Dylan Thomas, we can always go darkly into that good night or use more expensive light-emitting diode bulbs. And hey, what’s wrong with a good, old-fashioned candle or camp lantern? The reality is, an invention that stood the test of time as far as reliability and safety is concerned will be replaced by untested and questionable technology. The Dark Side. Americans are energy hogs and cutting down on energy use is a great idea. CFLs just aren’t the best way to do it. CFLs sound like a good idea since they use less electricity to produce light. But that’s only part of the story. It takes more energy to produce a CFL. Critics point out that CFLs take much more energy to produce than the simple incandescent. Each CFL has a tiny computer chip inside to make it work. It’s far more complex. Plus, the vast majority of CFLs must be shipped from — you guessed it — China. The energy inputs to get a CFL to market put it in the red before it even hits the store shelf. Here’s what else they say. CFLs contain toxic mercury. They give off dim, unusual light. They don’t last as long as claimed. You can’t fit them into many sockets. They give off toxic radiation. The CFL industry admits that bulb life is shortened by turning the bulbs on and off, operating them in less than optimal temperatures and may be overstated in many cases. Plus, they pollute in many ways. Break an old-fashioned incandescent and you simply sweep it up. Break a CFL and your entire day (and health) could be compromised. No Roomba for error! How toxic are these bulbs? Cleanup procedures read like a HazMat guide for anthrax spores. The EPA tells us, first, no matter the season or weather, immediately open the windows to ventilate, turn off any central air conditioning or heating fan and leave the room for at least 15 minutes so the mercury vapor dissipates to an acceptable level. Next, they say, do not use a vacuum cleaner. Wear safety goggles and rubber gloves. Scrape up the broken pieces with stiff cardboard or paper. Use duct tape or sticky tape to trap the small pieces. Blot up the finer pieces of glass and powder with damp cloths. Finally, place all of the debris, including the clean up materials, in a glass jar with a tight lid and deliver to your local hazardous waste disposal location. In addition, it is suggested that if the broken bulb contaminates a carpeted surface, discard the rug or carpet. Also, they say it may be wise to put down a disposable drop cloth when changing CFL bulbs. Is that the kind of item you want to have in your kid’s bedroom lamp? Hazardous when whole. Anything electric puts out some kind of electromagnetic field (EMF). Depending on the characteristics of that field, some EMFs are worse than others. EMF pollution is a serious threat with dangerous health consequences. CFLs are nasty when it comes to EMF pollution. One function of CFLs that is unavoidable can lead to migraines and seizures for epileptics. To make smooth-appearing light, a CFL has to be blasted internally with energy, pulsing over and over. In some CFLs it’s about 32,000 times a second and in some cases as often as 100,000 times per second. In reality, the bulb is flashing on and off so fast that the eye barely detects it. But it does. This rapidly flashing light source is believed to trigger migraines and cause the preliminary symptoms of a seizure in epileptics. Magda Havas, Ph.D. is a leading researcher in the field of EMF. Her research has found links between CFLs, EMF and a variety of symptoms. It’s well known that flickering fluorescents can trigger seizures and migraines in sensitive people but there is a whole host of problems that are linked to CFLs. Dizziness, lightheadedness, heart palpitations, digestive disorders, skin rashes, complications for sufferers of multiple sclerosis have all been described. CFLs affect those who suffer from lupus and other light sensitivity issues. With all the questions about CFLs, I want to stay with the Thomas Edison version of lighting a while longer. I admit I’m hoarding 100-watt bulbs. So save some for me. If we want to save energy, why not legislate that office buildings turn off their lights at night! Be well.

posted at 12:20 am
on Thursday, March 10th, 2011

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