Questioning the Incandescent Light Bulb Ban

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BY JACK DINI – “Is the modern incandescent light bulb ready to retire from society and find its final resting place in the halls of the American History Museum? Politicians seem to think so, but consumer behavior indicates otherwise,” observes Kelsey Huber.” (1)

As part of the Clean Emnergy bill passed in 2007, certain wattages of incandescent bulbs will no longer be available for purchase beginning Junauayr 2012. Europe began its incandescent light bulb ban on September 1, 2009 while Australia led the light bulb ban way back in 2007. Bulbs with wattages between 40 and 150 will be phased out, reports Diane Tuman. (2)


Critics of compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL) argue that exposure to mercury vapor is dangerous if the bulbs are broken, and others complained about CFL bulbs causing migraines and epilepsy attacks, resulting in medical groups asking for exemptions for those with health problems. Proponents of CFL bulbs argue that the increased energy efficiency will offset the higher sticker price, but critics argue it will take an exceptionally long time where people use light infrequently, such as closets and attics. (1)

A lot of research is being done to breathe new life into Thomas Edison’s light bulb, a pursuit that accelerated with the new legislation. Amid that footrace, one company is already marketing limited quantities of incandescent bulbs that meet the 2012 standard, and researchers are promising a wave of innovative products in the next few years. The first bulbs to emerge from this push, Philips Lighting’s Halogena Energy Savers, are expensive compared with older incandescents, but are selling at record rates. The bulbs cost 20 times the price of a standard bulb ($5 compared to 25 cents), an immense price increase for a 30 percent efficiency improvement. However, new bulbs last three times as long as a standard bulb, bringing the price ratio down to less than seven times the price of a standard bulb. (1)

What about the experience of others?

In Germany, this change lead consumers and retailers to start hoarding the traditional bulbs. Even museums were hoarding bulbs. Alexander Jung notes, “In creating this legislation, the EU failed to address consumer preferences and the reservations of a number of other groups. (3) A review of what such a switchover means for England in the wake of the EU ban revealed that up to 50 percent of existing fittings would need changing, at an estimated cost of around $6 billion. (4)

What about Mercury?

Each small, curly bulb contains about 3-5 mg of mercury, significantly less than the 500 mg in older thermometers, but enough that environmental and human health concerns remain. A study reported in Environmental Health Perspectives noted that in the hour immediately after each breakage, the team recorded mercury gas concentrations near the bulb shards between 200-800 ug/m3. For comparison, the average 8-hour occupational exposure limit allowed by OSHA is 100 ug/m3. Within 4 days a new 13-W CFL released about 30% of its mercury, with the remainder appearing to remain trapped in the bulb debris; picking up the glass shards after breakage reduced energy releases by 67%. Researchers state, “The amount of mercury gas coming off broken CFLs is over a milligram over a few days. If you put that milligram into a poorly ventilated room, the concentration can be over the recommended limit for children. The overall risk is low, but it’s not zero risk, and there is definitely an opportunity to do better.” (5)

In 2007 the Maine Department of Environmental Protection performed one of the only other studies evaluating mercury exposure from broken CFLs. The EPA’s current recommendation is to leave the room for at least 15 minutes immediately after breaking a CFL derives from that study. EPA also recommends that broken CFL pieces be scooped up and placed in a plastic bag. If you break a bulb, after leaving your room, run to your computer assuming it is not in the room with the breakage. EPA has a one page spread detailing how to effectively decontaminate your spill. Check reference 6.

What about disposal of CFLs?

Since February 2006, state law has prohibited disposing of CFLs in your residential trash, and most cities require you to drop them off at a recycling center. When you consider that each gallon of gas you burn puts 20 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it doesn’t make sense to chauffer lightbulbs to a recycling facility. Recycling long fluorescent bulbs is even harder. Recycling centers have different policies about how many they will accept. If you want to dispose of more than a few, you may have to make an appointment with your county’s household hazardous waste collection center. (7)


“If the whole country switched to fluorescents,  it would eliminate the need to build 30 new coal power plants,” says Noah Horowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Someone ought to suggest this change to folks in China and India who are building 850 new coal-fired plants by the end of 2012. (8) Thirty plants saved versus 850 in China and India alone appears like taking on step forward and over 28 back. Not much savings for a lot of potential headaches.

This is the same NRDC that has often touted the precautionary principle. What’s the precautionary principle? As Jeff Stier reports, “It dictates that in the face of possible danger to human health, even in the absence of complete proof of that danger, it is best not to permit the hazard until its safety rather than its danger is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. As they say, it’s better to be safe than sorry.” (9)

With the addition of mercury containing CFLs into our homes and offices, the cumulative risk to human health has increased based on the hoax that is man-induced global warming. The federal government alone enforces thousands of pages of regulations that impose a burden of some $1.1 trillion, an amount that is comparable to total federal income tax receipts. (10) The issue of  light bulbs adds to the absurdity of some of these regulations.


  1. Kelsey Huber, “The Incandescent Bulb Ban: Another Regulatory Overreach,” The Foundry, August 13, 2010
  2. Diane Tuman, “Incandescent Light Bulb Ban in 2012,”, September 17, 2009
  3. Alexander Jung, “Germans Hoarding Traditional Light Bulbs,”,1518,638494,00.html, July 27, 2009
  4. Peter C. Glover, “The Wishful Thinking of Greenie Dreams,” American Thinker, May 24, 2009
  5. Graeme Stemp-Morlock, “Mercury : Cleanup for Broken CFLs,” Environ. Health Perspect., 116, A378, September 2008
  6. “Cleaning up a Broken CFL,”, accessed August 23, 2010
  7. Terry Nagel, “How many legislators does it take to change a lightbulb?, San Francisco Chronicle, September 4, 2008, Page B7
  8. Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World, (New York, W. W. Norton & Co., 2008), 90
  9. Jeff Stier, “Banning the New Lightbulb,” The Huffington Post, January 7, 2008
  10. James Gattuso, “Red Tape Rising,”,  March 25, 2008