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Lighting the Green Life

April 1st, 2009


Fwd: Be prepared if you break a CFL



Sorry for any redundancy, but here is info for disposing of broken compact bulbs — If you only have time to skim — look for the clean-up instructions at the end of the piece.







March 2009






Hysteria or Legitimate Concern?





Occasionally, I meet people who are reluctant to switch to energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) despite a serious interest in living more sustainably. Maybe you’re one of them.


I’m guessing that cost is not the problem. You are doubtless aware that even though you pay more up-front for the bulbs, you save in the long run from lower electric bills.


I assume you also know that today’s CFLs are comparable, or even superior, to incandescent bulbs in terms of the quality of the light. No moreflicker or buzz either.


So, those issues are not what’s holding you back. It could be simple inertia — or it could be the mercury inside the bulb. What if it breaks, you may wonder. Would I have to get the guys in the haz-mat suits in for $2,000, like that woman in Maine was advised to do? Would my children be safe? Would I?


It’s true that mercury is a dangerous substance, which can damage the nervous system, brain and other organs at miniscule doses. Young children and fetuses are at greatest risk because their developing brains absorb the mercury easily and don’t readily flush it out. During certain stages, so-called “windows of vulnerability,” neurotoxins like mercury can throw brain development off course, resulting in problems ranging from memory impairment to mental retardation. Clearly, you are right to be cautious wherever mercury is concerned.


However, you are only at risk of exposure from CFLs if a bulb breaks AND you don’t follow a straightforward set of steps when cleaning up. (The woman in Maine was advised incorrectly.) I am going to list the steps on the right. PRINT THIS PAGE or the printer-friendly version and put it in your kitchen where the instructions will be available if you ever need them.


Now you’re ready to go out and buy some bulbs.


Families with young children might want to skip over the table or floor lamps in the play area on the off-chance that a lamp gets knocked over when a pillow fight gets out of hand. On the other hand, if you’re not the kind of parent who is already worried about the possibility of broken glass, you may feel this precaution is unnecessary.


If and when you are pregnant, do not change the bulbs yourself in case one should happen to break when you screw it in, the same way you wouldn’t change kitty litter because of the risk of exposure to Toxoplasma gondii. Simply having and using the CFLs is no problem. You kept your kitty, didn’t you?


There is only one other thing I would strongly recommend you do — recycle the compact fluorescent bulbs when you’re done with them so they don’t break in the garbage or landfill and jeopardize the health of sanitation workers and the environment. (CFLs are amazingly long-lived, so you won’t have to deal with this eventuality for years.) Your town may have a special drop-off place for CFLs or you can take them to your local Home Depot or Ikea. Plug in your zip code at to find the drop-off place nearest you.


Meanwhile, if mercury is on your mind, watch what fish you eat (especially if you are pregnant) and what fish you feed your children. Fish consumption is a route of exposure that is not a “what if” like a broken bulb. Larger, predatory fish are known to have high levels of mercury. The ones at the top of the food chain, such as shark, swordfish and big-eye and ahi tuna are the most contaminated and should be avoided altogether. (They are also species whose numbers are perilously low, so shouldn’t be eaten for that reason as well.) Other fish, such as Chilean sea bass, bluefish, halibut, snapper, lobster and canned tuna have somewhat lower levels of mercury. You can eat these without undue risk a few times a month (not each one a few times a month but all of them together).


There are also plenty of fish that are low in mercury and safe to eat, such as freshwater trout, sardines, catfish, crawfish and clams. Since fish is part of a healthy diet, you should put these on your shopping list. Download NRDC‘s wallet guide to fish so you know which fish to buy at the store.


It’s important to recognize that our energy use is one of the major causes of mercury contamination of fish in the first place. (The mercury is emitted by coal plants and settles in the water where it is taken up by the fish.) By replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents, you will reduce your energy usage and help to reduce the amount of mercury you and others are exposed to.


You will also help in the effort to rein in global warming, which is a much greater risk to your family’s welfare down the road.


Honestly, if you are looking to make a difference, switching to compact fluorescent bulbs remains the simplest way.





Sheryl Eisenberg, a long-time advisor to NRDC, posts a new This Green Life every month. Sheryl makes her home in Tribeca (NYC), where-along with her children, Sophie and Gabe, and husband, Peter-she tries to put her environmental principles into practice. No fooling.









Feed back at thisgreenblog











Subscribe to get This Green Life by email FREE.












CFLs Are Safe for Your Home







Is Mercury from a Broken CFL Dangerous?







Choose a Light Guide







Where to Recycle Light Bulbs







Mercury in Fish







How Many Lightbulbs Does It Take to Change the World? One.



1) Open a window before cleaning up, and turn off any forced-air heating or air conditioning.





2) Instead of sweeping or vacuuming, which can spread the mercury around, scoop up the glass fragments and powder. Use sticky tape to pick up remaining glass fragments or powder. Wipe the area clean with a damp paper towel or wet wipes.





3) Dispose of the broken bulb through your local household hazardous waste program or recycling program. If that service is unavailable in your area, place all clean-up materials in atrash container outside the building.





4) Wash your hands after cleaning up.





5) If vacuuming is needed afterwards, when all visible materials have been removed, vacuum the area and dispose of the vacuum bag in a sealed plastic bag. For the next few times you vacuum, turn off any forced-air heating or air conditioning and open a window before doing so.











AND HERE IS A BIT OF VERY INTERESTING INFO . . . . maybe switch to canned salmon??







The most common risk of mercury exposure to children comes from canned tuna because kids eat so much of it. Give them chunk light tuna rather than white albacore, since it’s lower in mercury, and limit the portions and frequency according to their weight. Pregnant women should do the same. Get guidelines here.










To read This Green Life on the NRDC website, go to * * *


This Green Life is a monthly online publication of NRDC, the Natural Resources Defense Council. NRDC is the nation’s most effective environmental action organization. We use law, science and the support of more than 1.2 million members and online activists to protect the planet’s wildlife and wild places and to ensure a safe and healthy environment for all living things. For more information about NRDC or how to become a member of NRDC, please contact us at:





Natural Resources Defense Council


40 West 20th Street


New York, NY 10011


212-727-4511 (voice) / 212-727-1773 (fax)





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Environmentalists to battle Navy proposal on Whidbey

March 26th, 2009


Environmentalists to battle Navy proposal

By Justin Burnett

Examiner Staff Writer

Whidbey Island environmental groups opposed to the Navy’s plan to expand its Northwest training operations say they will take their objections to the highest levels of government.


Representatives from Orca Network and the Whidbey Environmental Action Network have agreed to team up and send their comments not only to Gov. Christine Gregoire and Washington‘s Congressional delegation, but also to President Barack Obama.


“I think we need to kick it right to the top,” said Howard Garrett, president of Orca Network’s board of directors.

WEAN cofounder Marianne Edain said attracting presidential or congressional attention may be a long shot, but could end up being worth it. She pointed out that the Navy answers to both branches of government.


“The president and Congress have ultimate power over the military,” she said.

The Navy is planning to expand operations in its Northwest Training Range Complex, an area encompassing about 122,400 nautical miles of air, surface and subsurface space stretching from Washington to northern California. The complex has been in use since World War II.


The proposal, which ranges from increasing missile and sonar testing to dumping depleted uranium, has attracted the attention of more than just local environmentalist groups.

Following federal Environmental Policy Act requirements, the Navy prepared an environmental impact statement to examine how the expansion might affect wildlife and the environment. The Navy held six public hearings on the matter and accepted public comment from late December to mid-February.


But as concern over the plan began to grow, and more people learned about it, an increasing number of people complained that the public comment period was too short for a document of more than 1,000 pages. Even large, well-informed environmental groups such as People for Puget Sound said they felt caught off guard by the Navy’s proposal.


Although the Navy extended the comment period to mid-February, complaints in Oregon spurred six of the state’s seven-member Congressional delegation to send a letter to Navy Secretary Donald Winter requesting another extension of the comment period.


Navy Environmental Public Affairs Officer Sheila Murray the Navy has extended the comment deadline three times – a first for the Navy.

“This is unprecedented,” she said. “The Navy has never done this before.”


Murray said the Navy’s willingness to extend the deadline has been based primarily on the public interest generated by the plan. The new deadline is set for April 13. So far, more than 1,000 comments have been submitted.


That includes a 59-page document submitted by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental watchdog group. The NRDC document was endorsed by 20 other national and local groups that are against the Navy’s plan.


According to Heather Trim of People for Puget Sound, the environmental impact statement does not adequately address potential impacts to Puget Sound. 

“This is an area that’s already stressed,” Trim said.


The Navy’s increased activities could have serious implications on endangered species in the region, such as salmon and orca whales. That makes the Navy’s proposal more than just a local issue, she said.

“It really has national implications.” Trim said.

Garrett agreed, noting that the proposed training activities could cause significant harm to orca populations. He said that he appreciates the Navy’s need to train and be prepared, but he does not believe it should come at the price of the environment.


“It’s a clear case of social values that are in conflict,” he said.

Garrett said his hope is that the Obama administration shares his outlook, and will place a higher priority on the environment and resolving international conflict through diplomacy than on the military.


While the impact statement will be reviewed by the US Environmental Protection Agency, Murray said the assistant secretary of the Navy makes the final decision as to whether to proceed with the training expansion proposal. The decision is expected sometime this fall.


Comments can be mailed to Naval Facilities Engineering Command Northwest, Attn: Kimberly Kler, 1101 Tautog Circle, Silverdale, WA 98315-1101. Submit comments online at The deadline is April 13.


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