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Tech Myths: Boosting Reality

CFLs: Toxic and $2,400

Myth: CFL light bulbs pose a costly, toxic risk for your home. True or false?

What did we do before YouTube existed? It’s like a central clearinghouse for our society’s loves, hatreds, and dramatic paranoias. I’ve forgotten how I came across it, but I found this gem one day: “Compact Fluorescent [sic] Lamps are bad news.”

 It is narrated by host Lewismadmax, who had apparently read the story of Brandy Bridges, a woman who broke a compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) in her child’s bedroom. Knowing that CFLs contain the toxic substance mercury, she called Home Depot, which referred her to “the Poison Control Center,” which referred her to the Department of Environmental Protection, which then allegedly sent out a HazMat (hazardous materials) unit to assess the situation. (What really happened is that the DEP sent a toxics specialist, not a HazMat unit. Lewismadmax is just a bit off.) According to Lewismadmax, the crew found that the room contained six times the allowed levels of mercury, then quoted her $2,400 “to clean the mess up.” She couldn’t use a vacuum, “because that would spread the mercury throughout your home.” In wrapping up his lecture against “environmental wackos,” Lewismadmax notes that if you break a CFL, it could pose a hazard to your kids, and “20 years later, your first grandbaby has a toe growing out of his forehead.”

The Brandy Bridges story first appeared in the April 12, 2007, edition of The Ellsworth American, a local newpaper in Hancock County, Maine. It was subsequently picked up by outlets such as FOX News (always a better authority on science than, say, real scientists, right?) and WorldNetDaily. You could also read the story on in a story written by Mike Adams, owner of a company that not-so-coincidentally makes LED light bulbs, a more expensive alternative to CFLs.

The original Ellsworth story states: “The [DEP] specialist arrived soon after the phone conversation and began testing the downstairs, where he found safe levels of mercury — below the state’s limit of 300 ng/m3 (nanograms per cubic meter). In the daughter’s bedroom, the levels remained well below the 300 mark, except for near the carpet where the bulb broke. There the mercury levels spiked to 1,939 ng/m3. On a bag of toys that bulb fragments had landed on, the levels of mercury were 556 ng/m3. Bridges was told by the specialist not to clean up the bulb and mercury powder by herself. He recommended the Clean Harbors Environmental Services branch in Hampden. Clean Harbors gave Bridges a low-ball estimate of $2,000, based on what she described, to clean up the room properly. The work entailed removing anything with levels greater than 300 ng/m3, including the carpeting.”

Regardless of the exact details of what happened that day, does it sound horrendous? Sound like a disaster just waiting to happen to you? Keep reading.