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Fall 2008, Gabriela Guarguagli, Past Students

Fluorescent Light Bulbs, Not a Bright Idea?

By Gabriela Guarguagli

Even though The Environmental Protection Agency and some large businesses, including Wal-Mart, are aggressively promoting the sale of compact fluorescent light bulbs as a way to save energy and fight global warming, environmentally-conscious people are questioning the benefits of the cute-looking bulbs versus the real damage done to the environment and people when fluorescent bulbs are not disposed properly.

One problem is when light bulbs break at home the average user don’t know how to properly dispose/recycle the waste.

Clean Harbors

In San Diego County Clean Harbors is in charge of the handling and recycling of straight tubes, U-tubes and circular lamps. Clean Harbors separates the metal, glass, and mercury containing phosphors, and then segregates each component into separate containers. The idea is not to allow materials into the open landfill.

EDCO, Southern California’s Waste Collection

The problem here, again, is that the average customer doesn’t know how to properly recycle fluorescent light bulbs. Most households in Southern California get rid of their waste through EDCO, a family owned and locally operated waste collection and recycling company, and although the company provides recycling trash cans, the public is advised not to throw light bulbs in their recycling cans.

According to Jose Gonzalez, a landfill worker from EDCO, “customers are still learning how to recycle and sometimes we find broken light bulbs in the gray trashcans, or inside the recycling trashcans that are not fit to handle this type of waste.”

EDCO worker Jose Gonzalez

EDCO worker Jose Gonzalez

However, Gonzalez considers that more customers are taking their light bulbs in plastic bags to the different EDCO locations along with batteries and computer equipment to be recycled.
EDCO holds monthly events were customers can drop-off their recyclables for free. The company then sorts the material and Clean Harbors picks it up to be properly recycled at their facility.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

According to the CDC the mercury contained light bulbs generally don’t pose a risk unless the item is damaged or broken, and mercury vapors are released. Spills of metallic mercury may result in exposure to mercury vapors in indoor air. Very small amounts of metallic mercury (for example, a few drops) can raise air concentrations of mercury to levels that may be harmful to health. The longer people breathe the contaminated air, the greater the risk to their health. Metallic mercury and its vapors are extremely difficult to remove from clothes, furniture, carpet, floors, walls, and other such items. If these items are not properly cleaned, the mercury can remain for months or years, and continue to be a source of exposure.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that when you breathe in mercury vapors, most (about 80%) of the mercury enters your bloodstream directly from your lungs, and then rapidly goes to other parts of your body, including the brain and kidneys. Once in your body, metallic mercury can stay for weeks or months. When metallic mercury enters the brain, it is readily converted to an inorganic form and is “trapped” in the brain for a long time. Metallic mercury in the blood of a pregnant woman can enter her developing child. Most of the metallic mercury will accumulate in your kidneys, but some metallic mercury can also accumulate in the brain. Most of the metallic mercury absorbed into the body eventually leaves in the urine and feces, while smaller amounts leave the body in the exhaled breath.

Alternative Options to Detoxify

Barbara Kinsey, Clinical Nutritionist and Quantum Reflex Analysis practitioner (QRA) agrees with the CDC that mercury contained in the fluorescent light bulbs can pose a great risk for people exposed its vapors when a light bulb breaks.

According to Kinsey, “when a light bulb breaks, releases mercury vapors and mercury is one of the highest toxic metals and at exposure, damages the brain.” “Causes Lou Gehirg’s Disease, also known as A.L.S., which damages motor control and people lose capacity to move.”

Naturopath Barbara Kinsey

Naturopath Barbara Kinsey

The list goes on as Kinsey says mercury exposure causes mental disorders, miscarriages, and neurological damage. And the bad thing is “You only need a little bit of mercury running into your system, and going into the bloodstream. It passes the brain barrier and body tissues. Once the damage is done it’s a very fast death.”

Kinsey says that people exposed to mercury can take matters into their hands to heal themselves. “Through a hair test people can find out the levels of mercury in their system. They can use Chelation therapy that helps remove mercury, and Chlorella algae are highly helpful detoxifiers, because the chlorella gets into the cells and removes mercury easily and fast.”

However, she cautious that detoxifying has to be slow.“It’s the safest way to do it, by supporting the kidneys.

Windmills powering the Palms Springs area

Windmills powering the Palms Springs area

Especially important is to allow the cells to have highly absorbable minerals that protect the cells and don’t allow the toxins to go back into the system.”

Kinsey advocates the use of windmill-powered energy, solar energy, natural gas and, perhaps, more radical measures, such as using more natural light, and full spectrum lighting. “The whole nation has to go -sooner or later, that way. We have to be aware the way we use energy and where we get it from.”

The Environmental Protection Agency “EPA” has a section on “How-To” for consumers to learn the recycling business of fluorescent light bulbs.

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