Unintended Consequences of the Bulb Ban

The national phase-out of incandescent light bulbs begins in 2012, and by 2014, incandescents will be history. The popular replacement is the compact-fluorescent light (CFL), but there are very good reasons why a person wouldn’t want to purchase a CFL. One reason is CFLs contain mercury, and exposure to the element is linked to migraines and epilepsy attacks. Secondly, if you break a traditional light bulb, just clean it up. If you break a CFL, the EPA recommends you do this:Broken CFL

  • Get all the people and pets out of the room;
  • Open windows to air out room for at least 15 minutes and make sure central air is off;
  • Scoop up glass and powder using cardboard and place it in a sealed jar;
  • Use sticky tape to remove remaining small pieces and place in jar;
  • Wipe with damp towel, place in jar;
  • Do not vacuum;
  • Immediately place all clean-up items outside in a trash container;
  • Wash hands;
  • Check with your local government about disposal requirements, some areas require broken mercury-containing light bulbs be taken to a recycling center.

Families with small children who would rather stay with the traditional, safer light bulb won’t be able to. In fact, Maine’s EPA recommends any family with small children, infants, or women who are nursing avoid CFLs. The only alternative is to buy the expensive halogen light bulb, which cost about four times more than the incandescent bulb.

Another consequence of this legislation is a loss of American jobs. Almost all CFLs are made overseas, because it’s cheaper to work with mercury there. Last month, General Electric announced it was closing its factory in Virginia, the last major incandescent factory in America. The alternative to shutting down U.S. factories is converting plants to manufacture halogen bulbs. That is what Pennsylvania’s Sylvania plant in St. Marys plans to do. If these more expensive light bulbs aren’t successful, 265 people will lose their jobs.

People should be informed about the benefits and risks of switching light bulbs and be allowed to make their own informed decision—instead of being forced to buy a product because of a government mandate. Pennsylvania legislators should join members of Congress in Texas and Tennessee that are working to repeal this legislation.