Friday, September 24, 2010

Shining Light on Impulsive Mandates

President Bush signed into law a bill that phases out the incandescent light bulb by 2014. Not only was this hasty, but it’s disturbing because of the environmental impact and issues of personal freedom.

Americans have been strongly encouraged to replace their incandescent bulbs with compact florescent light bulbs (CFLs). A common example to quantify the benefits of using CFLs is: If every American home replaced just one incandescent bulb with a CFL, in one year it would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes and it would be like taking more than 800,000 cars off the roads. It will also reduce your energy costs.

Sounds like a great idea. But like most seemingly simple solutions to complex problems, it requires deeper thought.

CFLs contain mercury. Mercury is a neurotoxin. Therefore, CFLs must be disposed of as hazardous waste. You could take them to the nearest hazardous waste drop off center. You could wait for a free hazardous waste drop off day.

Or, you could follow the advice of Joseph Rey: “If you’re the Marriott hotel disposing of a great number of bulbs, you have to do it so mercury doesn’t leak into landfills. But if you’re one person, you can just toss it out.”

Who is this guy? He’s director of education for the American Lighting Association. He gave this sage advice in an interview in the February 2008 issue of House Beautiful magazine.

According to the 2000 census, Eden Prairie has 21,026 households. If every household did as told in the above recommendation and used one CFL, but then also did as Joseph Rey said and just threw them away, there would be 21,026 CFLs ready to leach neurotoxins into landfills. Of course we wouldn’t all do that, but you know there will always be people who will dispose of hazardous waste improperly if they know they won’t get caught.

We should be concerned not only about the earth, but the environment in our very homes. Using CFLs could be especially worrisome if our families include infants, small children or pregnant women, who are most susceptible to the effects of mercury. Most important, we should have the choice to make these kinds of decisions for ourselves.

If you break an incandescent bulb, you sweep up the pieces and throw them away – safely.

However, the American Lighting Association has very specific guidelines for what to do if a CFL breaks in your home. They include: open windows, leave the room for at least 15 minutes, wear gloves while you scoop up fragments and powder, seal them in a plastic bag, and place that into another sealed plastic bag. Throw it in the trash if your state allows; otherwise, dispose of it as hazardous waste. If you must use a vacuum, put the used vacuum bag into two sealed bags. The next several times you vacuum the area, shut off your heating or air conditioning and open the windows for at least 15 minutes after you’re done vacuuming.

Wow, that’s a lot of precautions to take for something CFL proponents insist isn’t toxic, as evidenced in this often used example of how safe CFLs are: There are only 5 mg. of mercury per CFL compared to 500 mg. of mercury in a thermometer, so you’d have to break 100 CFLs to expose yourself to the same mercury as in one thermometer.

Well, OK, but how many people do you know who still use mercury thermometers, let alone walk around breaking them all the time? Following this scenario, Eden Prairie would have to throw away 210 thermometers to equal the mercury levels of one improperly disposed CFL per household. That seems unlikely.

There are other health issues to consider. Migraine sufferers around the world are uniting to protest governments mandating the use of CFLs. The British Association of Dermatologists has called for exemptions to these mandates to allow for those with skin conditions worsened by fluorescent light, such as some forms of lupus. Eastern medicine practitioners consider fluorescent light to be detrimental to humans because it emits frequencies they believe worsen or cause multiple health problems.

Should the government have the right to mandate use of something containing toxic materials whose health effects haven’t been fully studied and with no exemptions for people with health problems that could be exacerbated by the mandate? If the government so readily pulled the trigger on this mandate in the name of environmentalism, what’s next?

Could they ban lawns because of the water used to maintain them? How about air conditioning? Burning wood has been banned in Sacramento, and in southern California, building wood burning fireplaces in new homes is prohibited. These governmental intrusions are growing. For the government to invade the homes of its citizens by telling them how to live is the antithesis of what America stands for.

I know “going green” is a hot issue right now, but let’s slow down, think things through. Let’s not accept knee-jerk reactions to the fear mongering of environmental activists. The CFL mandate is just another example of getting carried away with something that looks really good … until you shine a bright light on it.

1 comment:

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