Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Toxic Mercury No More?

According to recent statements, CFL maker GE is trying to kill the myth that CFLs and fluorescent bulbs contain toxic levels of mercury. This begs the question; exactly how much mercury does a CFL bulb contain and why is it there?

Let’s address the first part of the question. While the amount of mercury used in an individual fluorescent bulb has decreased over the past years, one broken 4-foot fluorescent lamp in a small room or vehicle can release enough mercury vapor to exceed the OSHA mercury exposure 8-hour limit—posing a significant occupational health risk. Plus, mercury vapor can be emitted for weeks after a single bulb is broken.

Now, let’s take a look at why CFL bulbs really need mercury. Mercury is an essential component of energy-efficient fluorescent lamps, allowing them to produce light and provide a longer life in comparison to incandescent bulbs. A typical fluorescent lamp is composed of a phosphor coated glass tube with electrodes located at either end. The tube contains mercury, of which only a very small amount is in vapor form. When a voltage is applied, the electrodes energize the mercury vapor, causing it to emit ultraviolet (UV) energy. The phosphor coating absorbs the UV energy, causing the phosphor to fluoresce and emit visible light.

While the amount of mercury required is very small, and a necessary component, mercury from fluorescent lamps still poses significant health and environmental issues, and lamps should be properly stored, transported and recycled in a packaging configuration proven to effectively contain mercury vapor.

Brad Buscher
Chairman and CEO
VaporLok Products LLC

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