New light standards – a bright idea?

After January 1, 2011, stores in B.C. will begin phasing out 75W and 100W incandescent bulbs in favour of more energy efficient ones.

After January 1, 2011, stores in B.C. will begin phasing out 75W and 100W incandescent bulbs in favour of more energy efficient ones.

While compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) make up the majority of the energy-efficient options, new low emission diode bulbs (LEDs) are being developed as well, but are less widely available.

Currently, the best CFLs come with definite environmental advantages, they use 75 per cent less energy and last 10 times as long as standard incandescent bulbs, which even at a slightly higher initial price, quickly saves the consumer money. However these bulbs also have one rather serious drawback, they contain a small amount of mercury in them.

Mercury is a serious neurotoxin, which means it affects your brain and nervous system. Mercury can also harm a person’s heart, lungs, kidneys and immune system.

It is especially harmful to children and pregnant or nursing women and causes problems with brain development.

There is already enough environmental mercury contamination globally that certain larger, and therefore longer-living, fish are currently not recommended for eating by humans in large quantities.

Health Canada recommends Canadians limit their consumption of fresh/frozen tuna, shark, swordfish, escolar, marlin, and orange roughy to 150g (one portion) per week. The Unites States Environmental Protection Agency recommends pregnant women and young children avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish completely and no more than 170g (one tin) of albacore (white) tuna per week.

Currently, most mercury pollution comes from coal-burning energy plants, the mercury in the coal is released and settles onto the land which then washes into waterways and this mercury can then be changed into a toxic form by microorganisms and it enters the food chain, building up in longer-lived species.

The tiny amount of mercury in a CFL (usually less than 4mg, and as low as 1.4mg in low-mercury bulbs) can be handled safely if a bulb breaks in your home, if done properly and contained as recommended. The room must be evacuated for 15 minutes and the pieces of the bulb then double-bagged in airtight containers, and then taken to a proper recycling facility.

Unfortunately, small rural areas such as Vanderhoof and Fort St. James do not have recycling facilities locally, and without any kind of enforcement measures in place, there is the potential for mercury to be released from improper disposal in landfills and accumulate in the area.

When asked about recycling in small rural areas like the fort, Jake Jacobs, spokesperson for the Ministry of Energy said in an e-mail: “Ministry of Energy staff are investigating options for recycling in Fort St. James.”

Upon calling the Recycling Hotline on the press release, after three tries, a helpful employee responded that the nearest places for Vanderhoof, Fort Fraser and Fort St. James are either Home Depot, London Drugs, or Central Builder’s Supply in Prince George or Home Hardware in Burns Lake.

Commercial users would currently have to pay a fee to use the recycling service, but according to the Recycling Hotline, this will hopefully be getting changed as well, allowing users of large numbers of mercury-containing bulbs to keep them out of landfills as well.

When asked what safeguards will be in place to prevent people from putting the mercury-containing bulbs in landfills, Jake Jacobs’ e-mail response was “the B.C. government is addressing concerns about mercury in B.C. landfills through product stewardship legislation and working with industry.”

“Under B.C.’s Recycling Regulation, producers are responsible for ensuring that used florescent lights are being properly recycled.  Producers are also responsible for ensuring that the public is aware of recycling programs.”

However, at press time, Jacobs did not respond to the question of what accountability measures are in place and whether or not anyone has ever been fined/ticketed/warned for putting the fluorescent bulbs into the garbage system.