News 11 Report: What's in Your Lights?

CFL bulbs, or compact fluorescent light bulbs, hold huge savings on your electric bills. But they also hold something else that you should know about.

News 11's Brad Harvey investigated.

There's no question about the benefits of these twisty little money-misers. Laurie Gross of Gross Electrical explains, "This is showing you a standard 60-watt light bulb. And if you look at the meter you can see how quickly it's moving around."

Then she explains, Here is the fluorescent, and it's showing you how much slower the meter is moving. So that shows you it's using much less energy than the incandescent bulb."

Gross Electric in Toledo has seen demand skyrocket. The shelves are packed with thousands of them -- 56 different varieties. They'll even buy back your standard bulbs if you'd like to make the switch. But there's a darker side to these lights. It's what's inside.

Joanne Cook of Gross Electric explains, "There is a fraction, a tiny amount of mercury in them. So you should dispose of them with a recycling company."

The greenest bulbs on the market, contain something the EPA considers a hazardous substance. It doesn't mean you shouldn't buy them, but they do require special care, and that's even spelled out on the package.

The back of the package carries this note: "Lamp contains mercury and manage with accordance to your local laws." Gross says that means disposal laws, so do not throw it in the garbage can at home."

The last place they should wind up is where they usually do... in the landfill. There, the mercury inside has a half-life of 444 years.

It's even worse for tube lights, which contain more mercury, along with a variety of other gasses and chemicals. The instructions tell you to send all of these bulbs back to the manufacturer, but that's not necessary in northwest Ohio. The EPA has set up a recycling program at Gross Electric. They take them for a nominal fee and send them to a special recycling facility in Bowling Green.

Broken bulbs

Here's a scarier question: What happens if you break one, and that mercury ends up on the floor of your kid's bedroom?

Brad Harvey conducts a safe demonstration showing exactly what's inside one of these bulbs.

Here's what the EPA says you should do if you break any kind of fluorescent bulb.

  • Open the windows and leave the room for 15 minutes.
  • Don't use a vacuum cleaner, pick up what you can using rubber gloves.
  • Dab the area with sticky tape to lift debris off the floor.
  • Seal it all in a plastic bag.

Posted by LS