Tuesday, November 18, 2008
7 News Investigations: Light Fright
In these tough times, everyone is looking to save some cash. One way is by going green at home and switching to energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulbs. Handled with care, they're great, but as Patrick Fraser reports in this special assignment, if one breaks, you may have just generated a new kind of Light Fright.
WSVN -- From the bright lights of Hollywood to the lights in your living room, the switch to compact fluorescent bulbs is on.
Richard Martinez: "I would estimate that I've changed about 20."
And the Martinez family has a lasting impact from the spiral shaped fluorescent.
Richard Martinez: "I installed my fluorescent bulbs here at home over a year ago, and I have yet to change the first one."
Patrick Fraser: "And it's the idea of saving money that is prompting a lot of people to turn off regular light bulbs and turn on compact fluorescents or CFL. They provide the same amount of light, last longer and use less electricity. That's all great, but some people claim users are being left in the dark about one thing.
Samir Elmir, Health Department: "It contains a tiny amount, a small, small amount of liquid or elemental mercury."
No big deal as long as the light bulb is not broken because when it crashes, small amounts of mercury are released into your home, and breathing the mercury vapors can be dangerous to children and pregnant women.
Samir Elmir: "Long term exposure to high concentration of mercury may cause a lot of health problems from permanent damage to the brain, to the kidneys, to basically impact or impede the development of children or unborn children."
Bulbs don't contain a lot of mercury, but even the small amount found in the fluorescent lights can be dangerous.
Samir Elmir: "Once you break it the first five minutes many studies have shown that those numbers spiked up in the room, especially at the breathing level."
Levels that environmental groups say are not safe, which is why many scientists say, take precautions.
Heather Jackson: "We took our compact fluorescent lamps out of our children's bedrooms."
The hysteria over these bulbs started after a woman in Maine broke a compact fluorescent in her 7-year-old daughter's bedroom. She called the state to find out what to do and was told to hire a professional hazmat crew to clean it up.
When she found out it would cost $2,000, she just closed off her daughter's room and sealed it up.
Jack Price: "The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is on record that that was the wrong information that was inadvertently put out there, and of course people got scared over that."
After hearing about the Maine reaction, Florida did its own tests and concluded the bulbs are safe if you handle them properly. If a bulb breaks, Florida says open the window in the room. Then turn on a floor fan and point it at the window. Wait a half hour, put on gloves and clean up the broken glass.
Jack Price: "If it is on tile or linoleum or hard surface, then use a damp paper towel to pick up the rest of it. If you are on carpet, then we recommend using something like duct tape or packaging tape and kind of go around and pick up the pieces again."
Everything should be double bagged sealed and taken to the a County Hazardous Waste Facility like this. It's extra work, but many people say it's worth it.
Marc Leff: "Every bulb in my house is compact fluorescent. It consumes about 25 percent the power, so I think the benefits well outweigh the risks, so be careful and recycle them."
They keep your lights bright and help you avoid Light Fright.
Some retailers allow customers to bring in burnt out bulbs right to the store for recycling.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Florida Department of Environmental Protection