Yesterday, MNN republished a Lighter Footstep article recommending 5 ways to properly dispose of compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs), the energy-efficient incandescent alternative with one, literally slight hitch: they’re filled with trace amounts of toxic mercury, making careful handling of these otherwise beneficial bulbs a top priority. 

Apparently, the New York Times Green Inc. blog also had CFLs on the brain yesterday and published a post on ArmorLite bulbs, a line of "Safety eco CFLs" from ClearLite with protective “SX4000 EcoCoating” that eliminates the risk of mercury exposure if the bulb is broken.

Perhaps more relevant than Green Inc.'s actually assessment of ArmorLite bulbs (yes, they really do appear to work) is a discussion of the broken CFL hysteria that prompted the creation of the ArmorLite. This is always an interesting topic — the possibility of breaking a CFL bulb and releasing mercury truly does freak people out and even prevents some from buying "non-armored" CFLs. But should it? Is the need for products like the ArmorLite even really warranted?

According to some, perhaps no, not really. Again, the amount of mercury in a single CFL bulb is tiny — about five milligrams or the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen — and the Natural Resources Defense Council points 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.”

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!”

Despite the supposedly non-threatening amount of mercury in CLF bulbs, many consumers, particularly accident-prone households with children and expectant mothers, still live in fear of the sound of a CLF bulb shattering. This makes products like the ArmorLite and Waste Management’s CFL Recycling Kit with a special “Mercury Vaporlok” foil bag popular buys.

Where do you stand on the fear-of-mercury-exposure-via-CFL debate? Does having CFLs in your home make you nervous or do not even think about it? Is this all much ado about (possibly) nothing or better safe than sorry?

Via [The New York Times]

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

CFL bulbs with built-in armor: A bright idea?
ArmorLites are CFL bulbs with a special 'skin' that prevents mercury exposure if the bulb is broken. But is mercury exposure even something to worry about?