By now, we have all seen them. We probably all have some in our homes. We most certainly have come into contact with them in the homes to which we respond. I am talking about energy-saving light bulbs. They have many different names; compact fluorescent lamp (CFL), compact fluorescent light, and compact fluorescent tube, all describe a fluorescent lamp designed to replace an incandescent lamp. Compared to their incandescent brothers producing the same amount of visible light, CFLs consume less power (from 1/5 to 1/3) and have a longer service life (8 to 15 times).
But the news in our quest to be better stewards of our planet is not all good. These CFLs have a small electronic ballast in their base. There is a fire hazard associated with these ballasts, but that is a conversation for another day. Let’s talk about another danger posed by these “green” lamps: mercury exposure and poisoning.
Like all fluorescent lamps, CFLs contain mercury. This fact not only complicates their disposal under normal conditions, the problem is exacerbated when the lamp is broken and the mercury is allowed “out of its box.” The symptoms of mercury poisoning typically include sensory impairment (vision, hearing, and speech), a lack of coordination, skin discoloration, tingling, itching, burning or pain, and desquamation (shedding of skin).