Mercury in Compact Fluorescent Lamps
5. Do environmental benefits of compact fluorescent lamps outweigh potential risks?
|Lower electricity use and
greenhouse gas emissions than
incandescent and halogen lamps
mercury releases as a result of use
and disposal than incandescent lamps
(taking into account mercury emissions from coal fired power plants)
|CFLs that break accidentally could pose a potential
direct risk to the health of consumers.
Mercury released from
CFLs that are disposed of inappropriately could pose a potential risk to the
On the one hand, CFLs consume less electricity than conventional household
lamps so they offer some clear benefits in that they lead to lower emissions of
greenhouse gases and other pollutants from
power plants. On the other hand, CFLs contain mercury which is a hazardous
substance so there is a potential health risk in the mercury released from lamps
that break accidentally in the consumer’s home or after they have been thrown with
the general refuse. It is very difficult to weigh benefits against these potential
risks and determine the relative importance of these different aspects: effects of
greenhouse gases on global warming, mercury released to the environment and
potential effects on human health.
The EC Scientific Committee on Health and
Environmental Risks (SCHER) is of the
opinion that compact fluorescent
lamps offer a net environmental benefit compared to the other light bulbs
considered, even if their mercury content
is taken into account.
On potential risks SCHER
Compact fluorescent lamps that break
accidentally in a consumer’s home are not expected to pose any health risks to
adults. However, no conclusions can be drawn on the potential risks to children,
namely because there is a lack of data about the possible oral intake from dust
and hand-to-mouth contact. In principle, a
foetus can be exposed to
mercury through its mother but the amount
of mercury that can cross over from the mother’s blood is very limited so the risk
of broken CFLs to the foetus is negligible. (see question 2).
It is very unlikely that the use and disposal of
compact fluorescent lamps poses any risk
to the environment. However, facilities that collect and recycle them could pose a
local, environmental risk if they do not deal appropriately with the released
mercury (see question 3).
When asked to weigh environmental gains from CFLs against any risks to human
lives from accidental exposures, SCHER
counsels some caution, as the relative weight given to such different aspects has
to remain a matter for judgment in the risk management process.