Fluorescent Lighting Dangers – Why LED Lights Are the Better Choice

The most commonly cited fluorescent lighting hazard is mercury. Fluorescent and CFL bulbs contain a small amount of mercury and are identified with the elemental symbol Hg. When these bulbs are cold,Guest Posting some of the mercury in the lamp is in liquid form, but while the lamp is operating or when the lamp is hot, most of the mercury is in a gaseous or vapor form.
Mercury vapor is extremely toxic. Even in liquid form, contact with mercury is considered life-threatening or a “severe” risk to health. Even very small doses of mercury can cause severe respiratory tract damage, brain damage, kidney damage, central nervous system damage, and many other serious medical conditions.
CFLs average less than 4 milligrams of mercury, about the amount that would cover the tip of a ballpoint pen. By comparison, older thermometers contain about 500 milligrams, an amount equal to the mercury in 125 or more CFLs. Although the amount of mercury in each fluorescent lamp is small, it is always important to avoid breaking fluorescent lamps, and used bulbs must be delivered to a hazardous waste handler. Never place fluorescent lamps in trash compactors or incinerators, since this will release the mercury and contaminate the surrounding area.
Disposed of improperly, mercury can contaminate buildings, landfills, lakes, animals, fish, birds, humans, crops and rivers. In the US, the EPA has ordered waste handlers to treat fluorescent lamps as hazardous waste. With such a classification, fluorescent lamps are not to be sent to landfills, but instead are to be sent to recycling centers that break the lamps under special conditions and safely recover the mercury. Up to 95 percent of the mercury contained in CFLs can be recovered if the bulbs are recycled properly.
Mercury-containing lamps generated by households and small businesses are not always subject to legal restrictions regarding their disposal. State laws vary and some states, such as California, Maine, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Vermont and Massachusetts, prohibit all mercury-containing lamps, including CFLs, from being discarded in the solid waste stream. In addition, many local ordinances require recycling of mercury-containing products, including lighting. It is best to check with your municipality to understand whether there are local requirements addressing mercury-containing waste disposal.
Because mercury will be released if a fluorescent lamp is broken, it is important to install fixtures in areas where the lamps are not likely to be broken. Fixtures in areas close to the ground or in areas with moving equipment should use metal or plastic shields to protect the lamp from being broken. If a fluorescent lamp breaks, there are numerous safety and cleanup issues which we discuss in more detail in the following section.
Breakage
Fluorescent lamps create several hazards if broken. Depending on the type, there may be a partial vacuum or the lamp may be under pressure. Breaking the glass can cause shrapnel injuries, along with the release of mercury and other hazardous compounds.
The biggest immediate injury threat from a broken lamp is from the phosphor-coated glass. If cut with fluorescent lamp glass, any phosphor that gets into the wound is likely to prevent blood clotting and will interfere with healing. Such injuries should be treated seriously and immediate medical attention should be obtained for people or pets that are cut. Medical personnel should be informed that the injuries were caused by a broken fluorescent lamp, and that mercury was present.
To minimize exposure to mercury vapor, EPA and other experts advise a few precautions. Children and pets should stay away from the area, and windows should be opened for at least 15 minutes so that vapors may disperse. Cleanup can be done by hand using disposable materials. Use rubber disposable gloves and scoop up the materials with stiff paper or cardboard. Use sticky tape to pick up small pieces and powder, clean the area with a damp paper towel, and dispose of the materials in an outside trash can. Never use a vacuum because this will only disperse the mercury vapor and leave particles trapped inside the cleaner bag.
Dimmers
Never use a CFL with a dimmer in the circuit (unless it is specifically made to work with dimmers), even if the dimmer is set at the maximum setting. Doing so places you at risk of fire and at the very least will dramatically shorten the life of the lamp and the dimmer. Also most photocells, motion sensors and electric timers are not designed to work with a CFL. Check with the manufacturer for the use of a CFL for these types of fixtures.
To use a CFL on a dimmer switch, you must buy a bulb that’s specifically made to work with dimmers (check the package). GE makes a dimming compact fluorescent light bulb (called the Energy Smart Dimming Spirals┬«) that is specially designed for use with dimming switches. I don’t recommend using regular compact fluorescent bulbs with dimming switches, since this can shorten bulb life. Using a regular compact fluorescent bulb with a dimmer will also nullify the bulb’s warranty.
Finally, if a CFL bulb “buzzing” when it is installed in a fixture that is controlled by a dimmer switch, this is an indication that you have the wrong type of CFL bulb installed.
Electrical
Any fluorescent fixture that uses lamps longer than 24″ or that is used outdoors or in a damp, wet, or high-humidity location must have an electrical ground for the fixture and ballast. All rapid-start and instant-start fluorescent fixtures must have an electrical ground in order to operate properly. Fixtures with longer lamps operate at higher voltages, with some fixtures having starting voltages across the lamp as high as 950 VAC. Voltages at this level represent a strong shock hazard and improperly grounded fixtures or direct contact with electrical connectors or other wiring can result in severe injury or death.
When servicing fluorescent fixtures and lamps, electrical power to the entire fixture should be disconnected. This is not always practical in situations where a large number of fixtures are controlled from the same power control (such as in open office areas). In these cases, insulating gloves and a nonmetallic ladder should be used if the fixtures must be serviced when power is present. black and gold bedside lamps

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