Energy saving light bulbs use seventy five percent less energy, are inexpensive, and make for a lower bottom line in the budget department. Every “green” person on the planet knows that. But what many people in the movement are ignoring, is the very hazardous problem of what to do to dispose of these bulbs when they burn out or when they, heaven forbid, break. Pregnant women are warned to stay away from fish with high mercury counts, which equals any fish with more than .5 parts per million of mercury. Compact fluorescents can contain from 1 to 30 milligrams of mercury, which, when broken, release levels of mercury vapor that exceed federal guidelines for chronic exposure by as much as 100 times, according to an article in the Boston Globe. These levels remained high even after a cleanup was attempted. Does this sound safe to you?

Mercury accumulates in the human body and affects the nervous system of a fetus or a young child when ingested. The danger is, it’s impossible to tell how much damage has been done once it has occurred. And the damage is irreversible.

If a light bulb breaks, it’s important to evacuate the room and get a proper cleanup (hazmat team in some states) involved. Whatever you do, DO NOT VACUUM! This only spreads the mercury particles worse throughout the air. In some instances, people have had to shut off rooms with plastic until the hazmat team arrives. You can read a specific story about a woman who has to come up with a 2,000 dollar bill before her seven year old daughter can re-enter her room, here. And, no, it isn’t covered by homeowners insurance.

Another problem with these light bulbs, is the fact that the fluorescent bulbs actually aggravate forms of eczema and irritate people who are migraine sensitive. This is a major problem for a government who wants to phase out the old light bulbs entirely in a few years. As reported in the Daily Mail, some governments are suggesting opt out exemptions for those with illnesses.

Finally, there is the issue of proper disposal once the bulbs have died. IKEA has disposal bins, but other than that, a large majority of the public is ignorant to the disposal needs of these toxic bulbs. The mercury content, when dumped and released in a landfill, seeps into our land and water supply. The U.S.EPA suggests they are double wrapped in plastic bags before taken out for disposal. If people just throw these bulbs away, they are likely to break, exposing not just our habitat to mercury poisoning, but our local workers as well.

The bulbs have been getting more publicity for their potential hazards lately. But I’m still not satisfied. This Earth Day, let’s show real responsibility by demanding public awareness over the harms these energy efficient bulbs cause. Some companies have used less mercury to make their bulbs, due to pressure from governments over negative impacts. However, it’s impossible to make these bulbs mercury free. And when just a little bit of mercury creates a whole lot of damage, is it really wise to make these the legal alternative to incandescent bulbs? Or should we wait until a better alternative comes along? Warning labels are on cigarette packages, toxic lead is recalled from our children’s toys, and yet there is no real outrage over the harm these bulbs are spreading in homes around the world.

If we’re trying to create a better world for our children, doesn’t that include their well being?