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Are energy efficient light bulbs safe?

Canadians are increasingly doing their part to help conserve electricity, as well as lower their monthly bills, by replacing their traditional incandescent light bulbs with the newer, spiral-shaped, compact fluorescent lamps [CFLs]. Their energy efficient qualities are proven, but we’ve all heard the precautionary tales about breaking one of them. Are CFLs safe? Below is the latest information.

light bulbAbout CFLs

Energy efficient light bulbs are a variation of fluorescent bulbs made to fit traditional sockets. They are low-pressure, mercury vapour lamps that produce invisible ultra-violet [UV] rays. Canadians have questioned whether the levels of UV are safe, what risks electronic and magnetic fields [EMF] create, as well as what dangers are associated with the mercury contained within. Health Canada tested CFLs due to these concerns.

UV emissions

The amount of UV produced by energy efficient light bulbs is so small that it is not considered a health threat. However, Health Canada recommends that people keep a minimum distance of 30 cm or more between themselves and a CFL light bulb. Exposure should ideally be limited to three hours of consecutive use if the CFL is used daily at a distance of 30 cm or less. Individuals who are especially sensitive to UV, such as people with lupus, may be affected by CFLs.

Electronic and magnetic field

Health Canada does not consider the EMFs from energy efficient light bulbs to be a health risk.

Mercury risk

Mercury is needed to make energy efficient light bulbs work. The good news is that CFLs only contain very little and there is no risk from the mercury in an unbroken bulb. But what if one breaks and you’re exposed to the mercury? The risk remains low if the clean up is handled according to Health Canada’s guidelines.

Safely cleaning up a broken energy efficient light bulb

The first thing to do is… nothing! Leave the room and take all other people and animals with you, avoiding the broken glass and opening windows and doors in the room. Allow the room to ventilate for 15 minutes before beginning the clean up to reduce exposure to the mercury vapours. Wearing disposable gloves, use two pieces of cardboard or thick paper to clean up the debris. Do not use a vacuum or a broom. Pick up any remaining glass particles or powder using duct tape or masking tape and then moisten a paper towel and wipe the area. Put all of the debris and clean-up materials in a sealed glass container to trap mercury vapours.

Carpet concerns

If the bulb broke on a carpet, you must close the doors to the room and ventilate it well the first time you vacuum after the initial clean up. Place your vacuum cleaner bag in a sealed plastic bag and leave the room to air out for an additional 15 minutes.

The big finish

Take the waste materials to a safe place away from children and animals [not in the house trash] and, as soon as possible, dispose of it at a hazardous waste facility. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after clean up.

The verdict?

Energy efficient light bulbs are safe for normal use in the house and the risks from a broken bulb are low if one follows the correct clean-up procedure. When changing a CFL bulb, handle only near the base so as to avoid breakage and put a drop cloth or garbage bag on the floor underneath [just in case].

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