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Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs

May 27, 2009

The amount of mercury in a CFL bulb does not pose much of an environmental hazard.


A burning question about bulbs…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Compact fluorescent lightbulbs save a lot of electricity, but they also contain the toxic element mercury. Listener Becca Buzzell of Strafford, New Hampshire, asked if CFLs pose more of a hazard to the environment than incandescent bulbs. We consulted Francis Rubinstein of the lighting research group at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. He says the amount of mercury in a CFL bulb is tiny — about the size of a dot at the end of a sentence. CFLs should be taken to a hazardous waste facility so the mercury will get recycled safely. If the bulbs do get thrown in the trash, Rubinstein says they end up in landfill.

FRANCIS RUBINSTEIN (Lawrence Berkeley Lab):
Landfill, generally, though, is carefully constructed so that toxic materials in landfill cannot leach out and affect the aquifers or get into the water table or things like that.

I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.