Drat! Seems those energy efficient CFL’s (Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs) contain just enough lead that the bulbs could be a problem when they’re put in the rubbish (link found via Slashdot):
The amount is tiny — about 5 milligrams, or barely enough to cover the tip of a pen — but that is enough to contaminate up to 6,000 gallons of water beyond safe drinking levels, extrapolated from Stanford University research on mercury. Even the latest lamps promoted as “low-mercury” can contaminate more than 1,000 gallons of water beyond safe levels.
And at the moment, there are few places where one can dispose of them properly:
In fact, qualified places to recycle CFLs are so few that the largest recycler of of fluorescent bulbs in America is Ikea, the furniture chain.
Even breaking one and breathing the resulting dust could be bad for you, and especially bad for children. Children can suffer severe long-term learning disabilities from lead poisoning, and it’s takes smaller doses of lead for children to be poisoned.
On the other hand, CFL’s are so much more energy efficient than regular incandescent light bulbs, that they might result in less overall pollution because less energy is needed which means less oil and coal are burned. But, with millions upon millions of CFL’s being sold, and few people aware that that CFL’s shouldn’t be put in the trash, then we may have a problem.
Consumers bought more than 300 million CFLs last year, according to industry figures, but they may be simply trading one problem (low energy-efficiency) for another (hazardous materials by the millions of pounds going right into the earth).
However, an even more efficient light bulb with more natural light may be on it’s way, and it should be easier to dispose of. See a video at ZDnet (with a really annoying commerical at the start):