We have yet to see the strange sights of St. Vitus' dance breaking out in the streets, but we are seeing one of those sudden enthusiasms that sometimes sweeps a credulous populace: the purge of the incandescent light bulb.
Six months ago, no one in the world saw the incandescent bulb as the greatest threat to Earth's survival. Now everyone's getting in the act to ban the bulb--supposedly because of its admitted inefficiencies, but perhaps because of hysteria that fails to consider the even worse effects of some of its replacements:
How much money does it take to screw in a compact fluorescent lightbulb? About $4.28 for the bulb and labor — unless you break the bulb. Then you, like Brandy Bridges of Ellsworth, Maine, could be looking at a cost of about $2,004.28, which doesn’t include the costs of frayed nerves and risks to health.
Sound crazy? Perhaps no more than the stampede to ban the incandescent light bulb in favor of compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) — a move already either adopted or being considered in California, Canada, the European Union and Australia.
According to an April 12 article in The Ellsworth American, Bridges had the misfortune of breaking a CFL during installation in her daughter’s bedroom: It dropped and shattered on the carpeted floor.
Aware that CFLs contain potentially hazardous substances, Bridges called her local Home Depot for advice. The store told her that the CFL contained mercury and that she should call the Poison Control hotline, which in turn directed her to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
The DEP sent a specialist to Bridges’ house to test for mercury contamination. The specialist found mercury levels in the bedroom in excess of six times the state’s “safe” level for mercury contamination of 300 billionths of a gram per cubic meter.
Consider the procedure offered by the Maine DEP’s Web page entitled, “What if I accidentally break a fluorescent bulb in my home?”
Don’t vacuum bulb debris because a standard vacuum will spread mercury-containing dust throughout the area and contaminate the vacuum. Ventilate the area and reduce the temperature. Wear protective equipment like goggles, coveralls and a dust mask.
Collect the waste material into an airtight container. Pat the area with the sticky side of tape. Wipe with a damp cloth. Finally, check with local authorities to see where hazardous waste may be properly disposed.
The only step the Maine DEP left off was the final one: Hope that you did a good enough cleanup so that you, your family and pets aren’t poisoned by any mercury inadvertently dispersed or missed.
This, of course, assumes that people are even aware that breaking CFLs entails special cleanup procedures.
So why the sudden enthusiasm to ban the bulb? Because it's much easier to convince the public of a threat in their own homes, now, than some abstract threat happening to someone else in the future.
Rick Mercer's "one tonne challenge" failed because people don't measure their carbon emitting activities the way they clip coupons and watch their gas gauges. Even if they could, they wouldn't, because it isn't relevant to their daily lives.
But everybody's got light bulbs.