As the compact fluorescent lightbulb (CFL) becomes the only readily available replacement for boring old incandescent bulbs, more people are discovering that cleanup after breaking a CFL is not child’s play:
Not long ago, Dan Perkins was in his New Haven home when his wife told him that she’d broken a lightbulb. She’d been cleaning in the attic bedroom of their seven-year-old son when she knocked over a lamp. The bulb, one of those twisty compact fluorescents, shattered onto the carpet next to their son’s bed.
Perkins, who draws the political comic This Modern World under the name Tom Tomorrow, was vaguely aware that a broken compact fluorescent bulb might be more problematic than a broken conventional incandescent.
“I knew that they had some mercury in them,” Perkins says. “That had been kind of a propaganda point for the right wing in the debate over bulb efficiency, so that was on my radar.”
To learn what kind of risk the broken bulb posed and what he ought to do about it, Perkins turned to Google, which sent him to a fact sheet put out by the Connecticut Department of Public Health entitled “Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs: What to Do If a Bulb Breaks.”
“Stay calm,” the fact sheet instructed. But the four-page document that followed read more like reactor-core meltdown protocols than simple reassurance. It cautioned that small children, pregnant women, and pets should be sequestered from the breakage site and called for an immediate shutdown of any ventilation systems.
Here’s a post on the incandescent bulb ban and CFL breakage from earlier this year. Tom Kelley posted an informative comment to that post, addressing several issues including the energy efficiency of CFLs:
I don’t use enough of the CFLs to notice a difference in the electric bill, but in a straight-across, lumen for lumen, hour for hour comparison, these bulbs should lower one’s kW/hr electricity consumption (so says the Mythbusters tv show).
BUT, and this is a real big BUT, that does not translate into a reduction in the raw energy needed to create the electricity, due to a small detail known as “power factor.” While resistive loads like an incandescent bulb (typically) have a power factor of 1.0, the CFL bulbs have a 0.5 to 0.6 power factor rating, meaning that the CFL consumes as much as twice the raw “energy” (VA (Volt Amps) at the generator), as the electric meter measures in W (Watts).
So, one can go ahead and buy CFLs if one thinks the bulbs may lower one’s electric bill, but one should not be under any illusion that the CFLs are saving any consumption of coal, oil, gas, etc.