Monday, January 16, 2012

Lemming Tracks: Toxic Light Bulbs For a Brighter Future

There's good news, and there's bad news. First, the good news.

Rejoice! Energy-Efficient Light Bulbs!!

"Old light bulbs fading, but what will replace them? "
Dave Gathman. The Courier-News (January 10, 2012)

"There's one trend we usually can count on in electrical equipment, from TV sets and radios to music players and telephones: As the years pass, it will become cheaper and cheaper, and more and more disposable.

"But as a five-year-old federal law takes effect this month, Americans may have to get used to just the opposite when it comes to the light bulb.

"The bulbs of the future will cost much more than the cheap, disposable incandescent bulbs we have been using since Thomas Edison figured out how to make one way back in 1879. But they also will last much longer - maybe even to the point of becoming built-in pieces of each lamp that last as long as the lamp does. And they will reduce our electric bills.

"On New Year's Day, the light-bulb business felt the first impact of the Energy Independence and Security Act, which had been passed by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007. The law was backed by an alliance of congressmen who wanted to reduce foreign energy imports and cut greenhouse gas emissions from making electricity...."

What joys! Thanks to the miracles of modern technology, and the Federal government, we'll soon pay a few cents less each month for electricity!! Oh, if only this glorious moment had come in warmer weather, so there could be dancing in the street!!!

Oh, wait: there was something in the third paragraph. "...The bulbs of the future will cost much more...."

That's the bad news.

What's Money to Congress?

"Government Phasing Out Incandescent Light Bulbs" (January 2, 2012)

"Get ready to say goodbye to the incandescent light bulb and hello to a future lit only by energy efficient bulbs, like compact fluorescent light bulbs or CFLs.

"The new federal light bulb efficiency standards, sought by the Department of Energy, went into effect yesterday. The standards passed Congress with bipartisan approval and was signed by President Bush. These new standards mean the end of incandescent light bulbs.

"According to Energy Star, CFLs approved by them will use about 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs and last 6 times longer, which should equal to energy savings for you and a cleaner environment. Home Depot employee Isham Smith, who goes by Smitty, said that CFLs can last 9 years or more.

"Home Depot will continue selling incandescent light bulbs, but only for as long as suppliers have them...."

"...The general cost of energy efficient bulbs can be frightening. Some of the bulbs at Home Depot can be nearly 50 dollars each. Smitty tells us that prices should go down as the bulbs become more popular and when manufacturers produce more of the bulbs...."

Okay: That's "...some...nearly 50 dollars each...." And Smitty's probably right. Today those fancy, toxic, expensive, high-tech lights are a sort of novelty item. With the government making everybody use them, economies of scale should kick in for the manufacturing process.

Which means that each fancy new light will cost less to make. Maybe enough different companies will be making them, so that competition will let prices get down to where folks can afford to have electric lights in their homes.

That would be nice.

On the other hand, the Lemming could claim that the ban on incandescent lights is some sort of conspiracy - and SOPA is an effort by Congress to silence folks who don't agree.

That would be silly. The Lemming thinks SOPA is a bad idea: but part of some conspiracy? Maybe involving space aliens and Elvis? Unlikely in the extreme.

Still - it sounds like Americans will be paying quite a bit more for lighting equipment. Because Congress wants us to.

Of course, it's for a good cause. As anyone who has seen "Captain Planet" knows, Mother Earth is threatened by evil forces. Like greedy developers and light bulbs.

Or, rather, the power plants that generate electricity that the light bulbs use.

Sense, Nonsense, and Congress

In the Lemming's opinion:
  • Is using less electrical power per unit of lighting a good idea?
    • Yes
  • Are new lighting gadgets more efficient?
    • Yes
  • Will we benefit from using more energy-efficient lighting?
    • Eventually, yes
  • Are Americans going to be paying more for light?
    • Yes
      • For quite a long time
    • Eventually, no
  • Will this Congressional stunt have unintended consequences?
    • Yes

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs and Mercury: Oops

Acronyms are wonderful things, if you know what the mean. A CFL is a Compact Fluorescent Light bulb.

"...These efficient bulbs are not without problems. CFLs contain small amounts of mercury, but that can still be a hazard to the human body. All CFLs should be recycled to prevent mercury from reaching the environment. You can recycle the bulbs at your local Home Depot. Broken CFLs can be recycled, as well. You must handle and clean up after broken CFLS with extreme care...."

Fear not, citizen! You, too, can clean up toxic waste!! helpfully supplied a link to an EPA page that tells folks how to clean up after a fluorescent lighting unit breaks. The link doesn't work, due to a little coding error, but this one does: "Cleaning Up a Broken CFL." (

The good news is that we won't need to buy hazmat suits when we pay for those fancy new bulbs. The bad news is that breaking one of the government's new gizmos creates a health hazard.

Then there's this item from that EPA instruction page: "...Air out the room for 5-10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoor environment...."

Open a room for five or ten minutes? What's the big deal? This time of year, in central Minnesota, it's a tad chilly outside. Lowering a room's temperature to below freezing is better than breathing toxic fumes: but it's inconvenient at best.

Toxic Light Bulbs, Technology, and Getting a Grip

At this point, the Lemming could rant about
  • The evils of
    • Technology and capitalistic greed
    • Big brother government
  • Power plants that
    • Explode
    • Kill millions of people
    • All the time
  • The wonders of
    • Technology
    • Congress
      • The wise
      • The benevolent
      • The far-seeing
Or, the Lemming could note that
  • Saving energy seems to make sense
  • The new gadgets are pricey
  • Other lighting technologies may be safer
    • And available
      • Eventually
Meanwhile, the Lemming may have to replace a desk lamp that uses a slightly non-standard incandescent light bulb. And that's going to cost money, too.

Somewhat-related posts:


Brigid said...

Missing period: "That's the bad news"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

P.S. I don't get that stuff about expense. I use CLFs and they're about the same price as normal incandescent bulbs (maybe a little more expensive, depending on brand). They fit in normal sockets, too. The mercury is a problem if they break, but all fluorescent lights have that. I don't see what the big deal is.

Brian Gill said...


I'll definitely have to find out where you get your CLFs. Looks like economies of scale, and market pressure, are working.

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