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Compact Fluorescent Bulbs and Mercury

November 29, 2011

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. It’s 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 there! Get friends, family members, neighbors on board — hey, why not get your whole school district on board?


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