Well, IKEA shoppers, this is it: no more incandescent light bulbs for you.


As noted by lifestyle blogger Siel back in July, the environmentally progressive Sweden-based meatball peddler retailer of home furnishings announced over the summer that on Aug. 1 it would start the “Great Incandescent Phase-Out” at American and Canadian stores with the goal of being incandescent-free by the new year. Just a few days into 2011, it looks like IKEA has stuck to its guns and can now claim to be the first U.S. retailer to have officially pulled the plug on inefficient incandescent bulbs. 


Getting a head start on the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 which requires U.S. retailers to phase out of incandescent light bulbs by 2012, IKEA now offers strictly CFLs, LEDs and halogen lighting options. There are usually a few solar-powered lamps (mostly in the summer) to be found at IKEA as well.


I actually visited my very local IKEA yesterday in search of houseplants — unusual, I know, but they’re cheap! — and stood in line to pay behind a woman with a shopping trolley filled with lighting fixtures along with CFL bulbs to go with them. It was an encouraging sight. Who knows … she could have been totally bummed that she didn’t have the option of buying incandescents. Well, this guy was glad that she didn’t have that option. Bravo, IKEA!


Now that IKEA shoppers will be leaving the store with a lot more CFL bulbs than they might have in the past, it’s worth noting that the EPA has published new clean-up guidelines on what to do if one breaks. My best advice: Don’t freak out!


Yes, CFL bulbs contain mercury but as I mentioned in a previous post, the amount of mercury in a single CFL bulb is tiny — about 5 mg or the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen — with the NRDC pointing out that there is "between 60 to 200 times that amount of mercury in a single silver dental filling in people’s mouths, depending on the size of the amalgam.” Or, look at it this way: older thermometers contain 500 mg of mercury compared to the 5 mg or less in CFL bulbs.


Additionally, scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory note that, in reference to a CFL breakage study conducted by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, “the most extreme CFL breakage scenario only equaled the approximate exposure from a single meal of fish.” The scientists go on to say: “If simple common sense is used in disposing of the broken CFL, the resulting exposure to mercury is equivalent to about 1/50th of an ounce — a single nibble — of Albacore tuna!”


Still, it's better to be safe than sorry. As advised by the EPA, you should handle and dispose of CFL bulbs in a responsible manner, but I would certainly not avoid investing in them because of potential mercury exposure or invest in them and live in constant fear of them breaking. It happens and chances are you won’t grow a third arm out of your forehead.


Here’s what the EPA suggests you do (more detailed instructions can be found here) in the event of a broken CFL to minimize exposure to mercury vapor:


Before cleanup 

• Have people and pets leave the room.

• Air out the room for 5-10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoor environment. 

• Shut off the central forced air heating/air-conditioning (H&AC) system, if you have one.

• Collect materials needed to clean up broken bulb.


During cleanup

• Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder.

• Place cleanup materials in a sealable container.


After cleanup

• Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly. Avoid leaving any bulb fragments or cleanup materials indoors.

• For several hours, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the H&AC system shut off.


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