Compact Fluorescent Bulbs: Don’t Freak Out About Mercury

Since An Inconvenient Truth came out in 2006, the secret has been out: installing those little twisty light bulbs saves money and saves energy. Since they last longer AND use less power, one bulb can save $40 over its lifetime.

a man installing a CFL bulb

photo from US Navy / flickr

But we often hear questions about the mercury inside.

We decided to do some research and see for ourselves.

Yes, it’s true: compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs contain mercury. Mercury isn’t healthy — remember middle-school science? — but the good news is that using CFL bulbs actually reduces mercury pollution overall.  Here’s how:

A good deal of our electricity in this country comes from coal. Coal isn’t clean – far from it, in fact. Burning coal is actually the #1 source of mercury pollution. So a bulb that uses less electricity means less mercury in the environment. In fact, using a traditional (“incandescent”) bulb causes almost four times as much mercury pollution as using a CFL.

So: definitely swap your bulbs. If you break one, clean it up! See this quick guide. And don’t stop at swapping your bulbs! Get friends, family members, neighbors on board — hey, why not get your whole school district involved?


2 thoughts on “Compact Fluorescent Bulbs: Don’t Freak Out About Mercury

  1. Leslie Keenan

    The problem we see is that the bulbs don’t last anywhere near the number of hours advertised, especially a lot of the cheaper Chinese made ones. And if the numbers are based on the advertised life versus the actual life of the bulbs, they could be way off.

  2. Karen

    I’ve converted my home away from incandescent bulbs. I believe it’s the right and green thing to do. The mercury doesn’t worry me as it’s such a tiny amount and as you say using more coal-fuelled electricity generates more mercury anyway – although I have also seem some stats which call that into question. Nonetheless, the mercury isn’t a big thing. The previous commenter is correct, cheaper bulbs in general do not last as long. With CFLs I find I get what I pay for. However, the radiation issue is what concerns me, as well as the eye problems with pure white CFLs, and so I’m gradually moving over to LEDs. More expensive, but I think they’re worth it. The research you say you did for this article doesn’t seem to cover any of this?

Leave a Reply