Thursday, April 26, 2007

The annoyance of "energy efficient" lighbulbs.

Here’s the threat of the environmental movement. They argue that we must “save the planet” from all threats: real or imagined. And they can imagine some real whoppers. These are people who watch science fiction and conflate it with reality in order to argue utter devastation is just around the corner.

And the culprit is carbon emissions. I should say the culprit d’jour is carbon emissions. They have a long list of culprits that change in fashion faster than haute couture. Whichever one that works people into a panic is the one they will tackle.

No matter the demon they are exorcising they have the same solution. We need state control of people. Restrict the freedoms of individuals. Limit their choices. Regulate their lifestyle. Force them, coerce them, make them live for the sake of the collective. What kind of ant colony do we have it some of the ants don’t fill their functions properly?

Right now they panic d’jour involves light bulbs. People use light bulbs that not politically correct. Therefore people must be forced to use the light bulbs that are approved by the high priests of Gaia. That is until they get around to discovering that mandatory blackouts reduce carbon emissions even more.

The “energy efficient” bulbs are going to reduce carbon. They also reduce light. An energy efficient bulb that claims to be 100 watts of light actually produces much less light that a normal 100 watt bulb. I tried these bulbs. Not to save the planet but to get the much vaunted economic savings in electricity.

The first problem is that I had to turn a light on in a room where I wanted to work about five to ten minutes before actually going into the room. The bulbs have to heat up before they start to work to their maximum. So that means I had a tendency to leave the lights running when I wasn’t in the room as well. I couldn’t just go in and turn on the lights, do what I needed to do and then turn it off. If I did and came back ten minutes later I’d have to work in very substandard lighting. So I turned lights on much sooner than I wanted to and left them on much longer than I wanted. Minute by minute they might be more efficient but I ended up using more minutes on the bulb.

But, even at maximum efficiency, the light was very annoying to my eyes. It was much too dim for a start. So I ended up turning on more lights to try to compensate. I found it difficult to read with this light, it annoyed my eyes. Eventually I threw out the bloody “energy efficient” bulbs because they were so annoying to my eyes and much more difficult to use -- let alone a lot more expensive. I was told they last much longer. I had a few that didn’t last more than a couple of weeks. Perhaps I just got a bad batch. But since they were several times the normal price it was very annoying.

But it appears I shouldn’t have just chucked the little devices into the trash without thinking. Each bulb contains mercury and argon gas inside. In different contexts the Greenies hate mercury. It is consider a dangerous substance and a poison (which it is). The European Parliament, that doesn’t met without banning something, has backed a measure to ban mercury from thermometers while also considering forcing people to use light bulbs that contain mercury. I haven’t seen or used a mercuy thermometer in decades. But I do use light bulbs, several.

I can’t speak for everyone but I would suggest the mercury that is disposed through the light bulbs I will use will substantially outpace the amount I would use with a thermometer (none). And so far I haven’t seen a mercury thermometer in use by anyone I know. But they all have light bulbs.

A mercury thermometer has 500 milligrams or more of mercury. The new PC light bulbs have somewhere from 5 to 25 milligrams. In my case I have no thermometer so my emissions of mercury from it is zero. If forced to use mercury bulbs I would go through five or six per year. That is a mercury emission level of 25 to 125 milligrams up from zero. Where I am staying right now the house is larger than my one room flat where I tried these bulbs. It has around 25 bulbs in use and no thermometer. Forcing this house to convert would mean that each time the array of bulbs have been changed the owner is forced to discard, by law, the amount of mercury, which she is forbidden to discard, by law, with a thermometer. So a few hundred milligrams of mercury in a thermometer is evil but a few hundred milligrams of mercury to “stop global warming” is good. Of course the few hundred milligrams are per house unlike thermometers which are far less common.

In the US packaging for the bulbs warn people they contain poison. And it is recommended that people who accidentally touch the mercury inside the bulb should wash their hands and not touch their face. There is a small amount in each bulb but it does add up to when you realize that hundreds of millions of them will be discarded every year.

What will be pushed next is special recycling for these bulbs because they contain mercury. Already in Germany, for instance, throwing out the trash is a major effort. You have separate bins for different garbage. There is a long row of garbage bins. Some are for food items. Some are just for paper products, some are for glass, but different glass goes into different bins depending on the color of the glass. I guess we will have to add a light bulb bin.

A housewife in Prospect, Maine purchased these mercury bulbs that are now the Green fashion. She thought it would save her money, which is what was promised. But as the local paper puts it, she “is paying much more than she had ever expected to.”

She went to replace the Satanic bulb in her daughter’s bedroom. As she putting it into the fixture it fell to the floor and shattered on her shag carpet. Let me allow the local paper to describe the incident:

Bridges, who was wary of the dangers of cleaning up a fluorescent bulb, called The Home Depot where she purchased them. She was told that the bulbs had mercury in them and that she should not vacuum the area where the bulb had broken. Bridges was directed to call the Poison Control hotline. Poison Control directed her to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Environmental Protection. Upon reaching the DEP the next day, the agency offered to send a specialist out to Bridges’ house to test the air levels. The specialist arrived soon after the phone conversation and began testing the downstairs, where he found safe levels of mercury — below the state’s limit of 300 ng/m3 (nanograms per cubic meter). In the daughter’s bedroom, the levels remained well below the 300 mark, except for near the carpet where the bulb broke. There the mercury levels spiked to 1,939 ng/m3. On a bag of toys that bulb fragments had landed on, the levels of mercury were 556 ng/m3. Bridges was told by the specialist not to clean up the bulb and mercury powder by herself. He recommended the Clean Harbors Environmental Services branch in Hampden.

She followed the instructions of the government and called to have the mercury professionally removed. The problem was that the cost to clean the room of mercury and remove all items contaminated was estimated to be at least $2,000. Not having that kind of money the room has been sealed off while Bridges tries to save up the cash.

She did see if household insurance would cover the accident only to find out that since mercury is officially a pollutant it is excluded from the policy. Other government bureaucrats said she should just clean it up herself. So which department do you believe?

One government official, whose job is to sell the use of these bulbs, says that all the effort Bridges was told to go through is not necessary. He said that his department suggests the following:

1. Open the windows and ventilate. (In winter that could be very energy inefficient so only break your bulbs on warm days.)
2. Don’t vacuum as that will spread the poison.
3. Wear “appropriate safety gloves, glasses, coveralls or old clothing and a dust mask.
4. Remove the glass pieces and place in a closed container.
5. Use a disposable broom and dustpan to gather the mercury dust. Or use a commercial mercury spill kit. (They run $37.50 per kit. But think how much you are saving.)
6. Pat the area of the broken bulb with sticky tape.
7. All the items used in the cleanup (broom, dustpan, your clothes, the tapes, etc) “should be treated as ‘universal waste’ or a household hazardous waste” and taken to the local government site.

The agency he works with actually suggests a bit more on their website. You know that carpet on the floor where the bulb broke -- they suggest “the mercury contaminated section should be cut out and disposed of as hazardous waste.” Since you aren’t going to have carpeting with huge holes in the middle of it it appears that you cut out the one section as hazardous waste and throw the rest away. Add the cost of new carpeting to the savings from the bulb.

They also say the “spill area should be washed with a dilute calcium sulfide or nitric acid solution.” They also warn that mercury vapor “is of special concern from broken fluorescent light bulbs.”

Are you saving money yet?

And the proflourescent advocate for Maine said that if one used the new bulbs carefully they “shouldn’t have immediate health risks.” Now I pay attention to what people say especially spokesmen for the government who tend to use weasel words so it sounds as if they say one thing while actually saying another.

If I were the reporter I would have asked him why he said it “shouldn’t” pose a danger instead of saying it “wouldn’t” pose a danger. Saying “shouldn’t” implies it might be a problem. Secondly, I’d ask him why he only referred to “immediate health risks”. Why use the qualified “immediate” before “health risks”? That sounds as if he is leaving room for possible long-term risks.

In light of my experiences and the costs that are associated with one broken bulb (if you follow official suggestions) I have to question the much vaunted “savings” of these bulbs. Me, I’m going to stock up on the bulbs they want to erradicate. They are cheaper per bulb. They work instantly without warmup periods. They give off more light. The light they give off doesn’t annoy my eyes. If one breaks I sweep it up and throw it away. I don’t have to dress like something out of Ghostbusters, throw away my clothes, the broom, dustpan, and the carpeting and make a special trip to a toxic waste dump to do so.