Fluorescent Lamps contain a chemical element called mercury (Hg) and is used to create light in homes and office buildings throughout the world. Many of the lamps Americans purchase today are manufactured in China. Chinese manufacturing facilities which create fluorescent lamps have been found to pollute the surrounding air, land, and water supplies in their communities (Yuanan Hu). Because of the environmental damage mercury can cause, efforts to mitigate the environmental damage has been primarily focused on reducing the amount of mercury contained in the lamps. Only until recently has the concentration of mercury inside lamps been reduced from about 40mg per lamp to just 10mg or 5mg per lamp (Yuanan Hu). It’s important to know that mercury is a potentially dangerous element and every effort to reduce its use and to properly recycle lamps should be taken.
Mercury is harmful to human health and are present as either elemental mercury, liquid mercury, vapor, or both. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration sites the exposure of elemental mercury to the air should not exceed 0.1 mg/m³. Releasing mercury from fluorescent lamps could cause bodily harm and pollute the air, land, and water. Once mercury is absorbed into the human body it takes weeks or even years to excrete. Autopsy findings point to a half-life of inorganic mercury in human brains from several years to several decades (Rooney). Prolonged exposure to mercury can do serious irreversible brain damage.
The solution to prevent fluorescent lamp pollution and to protect human health is through an effort to reduce mercury in the manufacturing, eliminating mercury from lighting products, and through proper recycling at the end-of-life phase. For the end-of-life phase it is wise to recycle spent fluorescent lamps with a reputable company, which emphasizes the prevention of releasing mercury into the environment. Verification of environmental, health, and safety violations through researching the state department that enforces environmental regulations is a logical place to start. For example, the Department of Toxic Substances Control handles enforcement actions in the State of California and has a database of violators and approved handlers.
Make the move to LEDs
Prepare your facility to be converted to LED lighting. For instance, the growth of the LED lighting industry is growing globally into a $26.7 billion dollar industry and it’s likely at some point in the near future the cost to switch over will be beneficial (Henry Yu). A common misconception is that LEDs are environmentally safe because they don’t contain mercury, but it’s more complicated than that. According to Federal standards, LEDs are not hazardous except for the low-intensity red LEDs. However, according to California regulations, excessive levels of copper, lead, nickel, or silver render all except low intensity yellow LEDs as hazardous. There are currently no waste management policies yet in place for LEDs (Lim SR). It’s important to note that LED lamps can be handled in a way that prevents breakage easier; thus leading to a high likelihood that LEDs may be managed as a universal waste in California – similar to that of electronic waste management. Contact a company that handles electronics for LED recycling services.
To conclude, making the switch to LEDs could be financially beneficial for you and your business, which will help protect the environment by eliminating the mercury found in lighting. Many utilities have programs to help you switch. San Diego Gas & Electric has a rebate program designed to save energy and provide incentives for businesses to upgrade their lighting. They issue a rebate of up to fifty-percent of the project cost (San Diego Gas & Electric).
Henry Yu, Littelfuse, Inc. LED Journal. 2015. 3 February 2015. http://www.ledjournal.com/main/blogs/global-led-lighting-trends-reveal-significant-growth-and-product-development/.
Lim SR, Kang D, Ogunseitan OA, Schoenung JM. Potential environmental impacts of light-emitting diodes (LEDs): metallic resources, toxicity, and hazardous waste classification. Davis, CA: Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, University of California, Davis, 2010.
Rooney, J.P.K. “The retention time of inorganic mercury in the brain – A systematic review of the evidence.” Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology (2014): 425-435.
San Diego Gas & Electric. Save Energy Earn Incentives. 3 February 2015. 3 February 2015. http://www.sdge.com/rebates-finder/save-energy-earn-incentives.
Yuanan Hu, Hefa Cheng. “Mercury risk from fluorescent lamps in China: Current status and future perspective.” Environment International (2012): 1.