Mercury and Compact Fluorescents
Mercury pollution is a serious issue, one which the Center for Energy and Environment and the Minnesota Energy Challenge take very seriously. Above all, I want Minnesotans to be healthy and happy, and part of that equation is helping reduce our exposure to dangerous toxins like mercury. Having said that, there is a disporportionate amount of fear around the mercury contained in compact fluorescent light bulbs given that you get more exposure to mercury from eating canned albacore tuna that if you broke and properly disposed of a compact fluorescent light bulb. Like, a LOT more.
Lawrence Berkeley National Lab have found that the amount of mercury a person is likely exposed to after breaking a CFL is no more than a single bite of albacore tuna, one of the most commonly consumed and mercury-laden fish in the world. That is to say that people who eat canned tuna on a regular basis are building up higher levels of methylmercury in their bodies than if they were involved in one worst case CFL breakage over a 24 hour period.
As far as the future goes, we know as well as you that CFLs are a temporary bridging technology, not a permanent solution for efficient lighting! We are all looking forward to LED (light emitting diodes) becoming more sophisticated and cost-effective to replace CFLs for household use, which we see happening at an affordable level in the next three to five years. Right now LEDS comparable to a 60 watt incandescent can cost upwards of $60, are directional (do not diffuse light) and are still struggling with adequate light quality. As soon as LEDs are up to snuff, we can give up on CFLs and move on, but the future isn’t quite here yet.
In the meantime, use compact fluorescents, recycle them and limit your canned tuna intake to once a week!