Monday, 7 September 2009

Danger above your head...

I'm taking a break from my hectic housework schedule in order to post seeing as I've been neglecting my blogging duties for the past few days. A few years accumulation of junk has demanded my attention and still is. N's nursery have benefited this morning from an influx of toys whilst I am almost on first name terms with the staff at the local tip.

The thought of going to the tip reminded me of a post I came across on a forum I visit (Above Top Secret) which concerned low energy light bulbs like the one below:

Now, we've all been told how these light bulbs are so much better for the environment, right? Well, that might not be so true. You see these things contain something that normal light bulbs don't contain:

Yup, mercury, a lovely toxic substance hanging there right over your head. If you were to break one Defra advise you to "Vacate the room and ventilate for at least 15 minutes. Do not use a vacuum cleaner but clean up using rubber gloves and aim to avoid creating and inhaling airborne dust. Sweep up all particles and glass fragments and place in a plastic bag. Wipe the area with a damp cloth, then add that to the bag and seal it. Mercury is hazardous waste and the bag should not be disposed of in the bin. All local councils have an obligation to make arrangements for the disposal of hazardous household waste" (Source)

Each light bulb contains about 6-8mg of mercury which, to be honest, isn't that much and wouldn't put you in so much danger. In a recent BBC report (see here) Dr David Ray, a toxicologist from the University of Nottingham was reported as saying "Mercury accumulates in the body - especially the brain. The biggest danger is repeated exposure - a one off exposure is not as potentially dangerous compared to working in a light bulb factory. If you smash one bulb then that is not too much of a hazard. However, if you broke five bulbs in a small unventilated room then you might be in short term danger."

So, the official line seems to be that as long as you know about the possibility of a mercury spillage then there's not much danger. There's one slight flaw in this otherwise flawless plan and that is the fact that the presence of mercury in these bulbs isn't made clear on the packaging so not many people are aware of the fact that it's in them.

As the OP on Above Top Secret pointed out - say you have 5 Low Energy Bulbs in your house, as did everyone in your street where there are 20 houses. Then there are maybe 500 streets in your town, that makes 50,000 light bulbs with 6-8mg of mercury in each one - potentially 300kg of mercury being sent to landfill rather than being disposed of properly...and that's just in one small town! (See here for the original thread on ATS).

Whilst doing a bit of research into this I also came across reports of these things causing sun burn like symptoms (see here) which is also quite worrying.

So, next time you see one of these, just think about the potential dangers. Oh, and while I'm on the subject of mercury have a think about any fillings you may have in your mouth containing mercury almagam fillings...have a read of this or this!


Akelamalu said...

That's worrying but unfortunately we won't have a choice about what sort of light bulbs we use will we? :(

Dan's Fi-ver said...

There is a choice - look into OLED lighting!