Thanks largely to the Efficiency Maine discount coupon program, many homes in Maine have one or more light fixtures equipped with compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs. While the new generation of illumination is energy-efficient, it is not without its drawbacks.
CFLs are available in various models and are designed to replace the familiar incandescent lamp. They use about one-fourth the power needed by older bulbs and can last several times longer, but they also are subject to regulation.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates CFLs because of the ultraviolet radiation they emit. While amounts usually are slight, some people can have adverse reactions after working too close to them. The FDA notes that there are no standards or reporting requirements on UV emissions right now.
The mercury that CFLs use to produce light so efficiently is more tightly regulated, because uncontrolled emissions of the heavy metal can pose serious health risks. Breakage of large numbers of CFLs, such as in landfills, could expose workers and neighbors to dangerous levels of airborne mercury.
In June, Gov. John Baldacci signed LD 973, which requires the state Department of Environmental Protection to set limits on the amount of mercury in lamps sold in Maine and improves the state’s procurement policy on CFLs. A first-in-the-nation requirement will see manufacturers taking part in collection and education efforts.
The changes can’t come too soon, in the view of Travis Wagner at the University of Southern Maine’s environmental science department. His report, made public last month, details a survey that shows while most Mainers use CFLs, most do not recycle them. This occurs despite a ban on disposal of the bulbs and presence of free recycling in some communities.
Some survey respondents said they store old CFLs because they’re not sure what to do with them. This practice could increase the risk of accidental breakage and mercury release; cleanup can be risky when done by homeowners and costly if pros are called in.
Wagner notes that the smiling light bulb featured in many promotional efforts doesn’t help Mainers find nearby free disposal sites. He notes that between 30,000 and 40,000 CFLs are sold monthly in the state, but only about 8,800 bulbs have been recycled since May 2007. Wagner urges expanding the number of free collection sites around Maine, and targeting future education efforts to helping consumers locate those sites.
While Maine can do more, it’s going in a better direction than Ohio, where First Energy recently proposed mailing two CFLs to every customer. The utility planned to bill them $21.50 per shipment for the bulbs and shipping costs plus recovery of some revenue it would lose from lower sales as a result of greater efficiency. The public outcry was so great that First Energy put the program on hold.
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