Mercury in incandescent bulbs?

We’d never heard this, can’t readily confirm it, doubt it and seek confirmation/debunking.

Ruby Gonzalez-Jimenez, LEED Green Associate, Expedient Energy asserts that:

Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs do contain mercury, but only a small amount of between 1 to 4 milligrams (mg).

Mercury is the essential component of what allows a CFL to be an energy efficient bulb. CFLs are designed to seal the mercury tightly inside the glass tubing which prevents any release of mercury into its surroundings.

Two examples have been provided to demonstrate how small and practically insignificant the amount of mercury content in each CFL really is.

• Example 1: Mercury used in CFLs compared to traditional incandescent light bulbs

13 watt CFL contains 1.2 mg of mercury
60 watt incandescent (13 watt CFL-equivalent) contains 5.5 mg of mercury

• Example 2: Comparing mercury content in CFLs with mercury content in a thermometer

A CFL contains 1 to 4 milligrams of mercury
A thermometer (old fashion kind) contains 500 milligrams of mercury = amount of mercury in 125 CFLs

In comparison, the small amount of mercury present in each CFL does not make them a threat to the environment… [Emphasis added]

21 thoughts on “Mercury in incandescent bulbs?”

  1. @Alice, have seen figures up to 10x. The 3 hours per day thing is another trick. CFL’s are much more sensative to short usage than regular bulbs, if you turn one on for 5 minutes, and off again, then 5 minutes and off again, like most lights in the house, CFL’s burn out quite quickly.

    IF you keep them on for 4 hour blocks – or longer, that is how get the 8 – 10 x the length of an incandescent. But almost no-one uses lights this way, ‘cept for maybe one or two in the family room.

  2. A good point:
    “Anyway, you can’t, in the middle of the night lower the coal power plant by 75 watts, and the power is generated based on day use highs, so a CFL burnt at night will save the owner some $ but actually reduces CO2 emissions by exactly zero.”

    Coal plants are on all the time at basically the same output level..
    Slow and cheap.
    They are supplemented at peak times (eg 5-10pm temperate zones), typically by quicker responding gas or hydro powered turbines. While this is also when lighting comes on, it would at best save some gas related CO2 and mercury emissions, which is much less than from coal.

    It kind of goes into another good potential Junk Science topic 😉
    “Hey if we ban bulbs we save 30 coal power plants” , and such

    No power plants would therefore be saved even on the inflated asumed energy savings,
    because of the constant base loading requirements.

    (it’s also a bit similar to saying that if the USA had “hundreds of thousands less school students”,
    then “far fewer schools need be built”,
    which of course is not true on the basis that basically the same schools are always needed locally in the areas,
    regardless of whether, say, 500 or 700 students attend a particular one)

  3. Incandescents don’t contain mercury…

    He’s probably on about the old yarn
    “coal plant emission mercury from greater incandescent energy use a
    worse problem than CFL mercury”
    which does not holds up on the EPA 90% emission reduction by 2016,
    and never was true anyway = referenced

    More about the deception behind banning light bulbs,
    – a referenced rundown of why the arguments don’t hold

  4. Interesting that you mention the CFLs last 10 times longer according to the manufacturers. Actually, if you do the math, the numbers quoted (1000 hrs to 1500 hrs for incandescent, 7500 for CFLs), it does not come out 10 times. The most disturbing thing I found was the “guarantee” on the light bulb–good for “x” number of years at THREE hours use per day. That’s correct, three hours. Let’s see: 13 watts versus 60 watts at three hours use per day takes ?????? years to pay for the difference in cost. Can I actually live that long? If I only used lights three hours a day, why would I even change to CFLs? It’s very “enlightening” when you actually the read the packaging!

  5. No Jr, what the do is assume that power plant throw X amount of mercury in the air per kilowatt hour, and then add up all the kilowatt hours for ABOUT 10 incandescent bulbs (since they claim CFL’s last ten times as long) and then multiply by the mercury emissions per kilowatt hour.

    It is disingenuous for several reasons, First of which they usually don’t compare against the CFL internal mercury + CFL power used, just the internal mercury. Second flaw is they are overly optimistic about the CFL’s – they last maybe 4 incandescent bulbs not 10 and finally because of the way our power system works, switching to CFLs for night use doesn’t save any electricity whatsoever. The power plants can’t be turned down, they have to run at full speed in prep for peak time next day. Electric producers throw out half the energy they produce at night.

  6. Not much of a realistic trick. It still takes electricity to make CFLs.

    Pretty sure he meant to say fluorescent rather than incandescent. If not, he’s in no position to preach to me about how to light my room.

  7. Yes, the comparison is between the amount of mercury in the CFL versus the amount of mercury generated by the power plant for the incandescent bulb, so Mark’s calculation is more accurate. If mercury is no big deal, why do the bulbs have warnings and landfills refuse to take them? Whether or not one believes the mercury is harmful, the EPA made this stupid rule and now they want to dump it because it suits their purpose. Someone lied at some point–mercury can’t be harmful and not harmful both.

  8. I suspect Mark has found the “trick” they’re using. If you compare the CFL to actual mercury emissions from power plants, and not the EPA’s inflated numbers, I think you’d find that even if you counted the “power plant emitted” mercury against the actual elemental mercury (Typically much more than the unusually low “average” quoted, since very few 13W CFLs get used. That’s a 40W equivalent, not the typical 60 to 100W against which they’re being compared.) in a CFL, you’d find that every CFL contains more mercury than a single incandescent lamp can be accused of “causing”. Why can’t the watermelons find any scientists? Or any “facts” that add up?

  9. There is no mercury in incandescent light bulbs. There is no need for mercury in incandescent in incandescent light bulbs. And, as anyone can attest who’s broken an incandescent light bulb, there’s no room for a mercury reservoir. The sole ingredients in an incandescent light bulb are metal (steel and tungsten) and glass.

  10. eh,,,I got the 404 file not found error when i followed the link. Did a quick search, and tried to find articles written by R G-J. Did not find it. I suspect it has already been pulled.

    While on the LEEDS site, I did see a product review for a Plant Based air filter for $169. Plastic dome, battery powered fan, and plant not included. PT Barnum was rigth

  11. I know this trick. The CFL eq of an Incandescent light is the amount of mercury allegedly spewed into the environment by coal power plants while powering your light bulb.

    Secondly the comparison is against power plant mercury emissions against what is in a CFL only (not CFL + CFL’s power plant mercury emissions) so the comparison isn’t apples and apples. To make it fair, assuming the power plant mercury spewing assessment is correct, you need to add the power plant component to the CFL, which would double the CFL’s mercury content equivalent to 2.5 ml vs 5.5.

    Anyway, you can’t, in the middle of the night lower the coal power plant by 75 watts, and the power is generated based on day use highs, so a CFL burnt at night will save the owner some $ but actually reduces CO2 emissions by exactly zero.

  12. There are prohibitions on mercury on airplanes. The only mercury thermometers allowed on planes are official weather service thermometers carried in special cases to prevent leaks. Why mercury is a corrosive for aluminum and so plane parts can be weakened. Fluorescent lights tubes are not allowed on aircraft, but for some reason there are no restrictions on CFL’s.

  13. I do not like CFLs, but isn’t it true that the mercury in a CFL is significantly less than the mercury in the long used Florescent bulb? There are many negatives to CFLs. This does not appear to be one.

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