The Dangers of CFLs Even Greater Than Previously Known

New evidence of CFLs causing fires -- even exploding -- as well as new environmental concerns have come to light since my article The CFL Fraud published.  Here are some of the additional fires: 

"I had one of these CFL's in my garage socket, and it blew a component (not the glass corkscrew) and caught fire.  Fortunately, I was standing four feet away at the time.  I turned off the power and smothered the bulb with a towel." LINK

"I heard a sizzling sound like bacon, looked in the direction of the sound and watch the CFL burst into flame with flames licking up onto the ceiling of my house." LINK

"I've had two burn through their base, leaving a hole large enough to stick my little finger in, and scorching the fixture. They are a fire hazard." LINK

"I've had TWO catch fire.  I don't trust them.  Plus they look silly." LINK

"I've had two CFLs explode on me.  One in our bedroom overhead light.... I took a long time cleaning the bedspread and carpeting, because of fears of the mercury residue.  Had another one explode in the family room." LINK 

How was that bedspread cleaned?  Was the person aware it must not be put in a washing machine, according to EPA, "because mercury may contaminate the machine and/or pollute sewage"?  Was that person aware EPA also says never to use a vacuum cleaner to clean up a broken CFL on a carpet?  Vacuuming will disperse mercury into the air and contaminate the vacuum cleaner, which for all practical purposes is impossible to decontaminate. LINK

In recognition of the problems of fires and exploding CFLs, Armorlite is marketing a product with a package labeled "A Safer CFL."  It is a CFL inside what looks like the shell of an incandescent bulb made with some special coating.  Notice that is says a "safer CFL" -- not that it is "safe," just "safer."  In other words, less dangerous.  The package states: "We do not make any claims or provisions that mercury or glass cannot escape coating."

Armorlite claims a lifetime of 10,000 hours, or nine years, based on 3 hours of use per day, but the warranty is for only two years.  So much for all the B.S. about how CFLs last so many thousands of hours longer than incandescents.

If the bulb fails in two years, you can get a replacement from the company.  The package states: "This replacement is the sole remedy available and LIABILITY FOR INCIDENTAL OR CONSEQENTIAL DAMAGES IS HEREBY EXCLUDED," except for some states which do not allow such exclusion.  So if your house burns down, all you are likely to get is a new bulb.  And to get it you have to have saved your proof of purchase and your register receipt for two years and mail them together with the broken bulb to the company's Florida address.  The warranty explicitly states: "Do not return to the store."

Of course, as I pointed out previously, state and federal environmental laws have effectively eliminated the mail-back programs of CFL manufacturers.  Researchers found the only legally acceptable shipping container is "a double box with a zip closure foil-plastic laminate bag between the cardboard layers" if CFLs are to be shipped by U.S. Postal Service or common carrier.  To ignore this requirement would subject violators to the penalties of the law, which would surely exceed the value of a replacement bulb.  The cost of the acceptable container and the postage/shipping charge must also be paid by the consumer returning the product.  The result is that probably nobody is ever going to return a broken CFL to Armorlite.   It's not worth it.   And I would wager that many disappointed customers will not consider it worth their time and gas to deliver a failed bulb to a recycling collection point either.  Even if the government inspected everyone's trash -- think of the cost of that! --  to prevent people from "smuggling" CFLs into their discards, I suspect we would see an increase of CFLs in other people's trash or strewn along roads.

Rick Delair of the Edison Tech Center writes:

"CFL bulbs contain many nasty toxic substances.  You likely know of the mercury they contain already, but they also have things like lead (stabilizer in the plastic ballast housings), arsenic in the electronic parts, phenol in circuit boards, cyanide to process metals for parts, toxic phosphors, and the list goes on and on!  They can't be tossed in the trash can, and have to be saved and recycled (expensive!) when they burn out.  Incandescents are not only easily recycled, but can be discarded in the trash -- the glass and metals used are inert."

Though Armorlite claims its product contains lesser amounts of mercury and lead than some CFLs, it contains additional hazardous substances Delair doesn't mention: cadmium, hexavalent chromium, and polybromated biphenyls.  Why not let people buy incandescents, which don't have any of these?

The new Armorlite product has not solved other CFL problems either.  Its package states:

"Do not use in luminaries controlled by a dimmer, electronic timers, 3-way socket or photocells, illuminated switches, totally enclosed luminaries, or where directly exposed to weather.  Do not use with emergency fixtures or emergency lights.  This CFL may interfere with other products like radios, cordless phones and others." 

Incandescents have none of these problems.

LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are frequently cited as the next generation of lighting technology, supplanting CFLs.  Many people believe their very high cost will come down, and many recommend them even at today's prices because of CFL shortcomings and the belief LEDs have no environmental problems.  However, recent LED research at the University of California at Irvine found the lead content was over 8 times the regulatory limit, and the nickel content was over two and one-half times.  Under California's environmental law, most LEDs would qualify as hazardous waste, though California does not currently classify them as toxic and disposes of them in landfills.  The study was based on LED multicolored Christmas lights, traffic lights, and automobile headlights and brake lights.

A recent news release from the university about this study states:

"Those light-emitting diodes marketed as safe, environmentally preferable alternatives to traditional lightbulbs actually contain lead, arsenic and a dozen other potentially hazardous substances, according to newly published research. 

"'We find the low-intensity red LEDs exhibit significant cancer and noncancer potentials due to the high content of arsenic and lead,' the team wrote in the January 2011 issue of Environmental Science & Technology....Results from the larger lighting products will be published later, but according to Ogunseitan [who headed the study] 'it's more of the same.'

"Lead, arsenic and many additional metals discovered in the bulbs or their related parts have been linked in hundreds of studies to different cancers, neurological damage, kidney disease, hypertension, skin rashes and other illnesses.  The copper used in some LEDs also poses an ecological threat to fish, rivers and lakes."

"Risks are present in all parts of the lights and at every stage during production, use and disposal, the study found.  Consumers, manufacturers and first responders to accident scenes ought to be aware of this, Ogunseitan said....Crews dispatched to clean up car crashes or broken traffic fixtures should don protective gear and handle the material as hazardous waste."

Statists believe government can determine people's economic interactions better than the people themselves.  In short, they believe government economic planning is superior to the free market. Politicians are always looking for ways to demonstrate this to justify the statist ideological conviction and retain the political power to force it on the public.  From low-flow toilets to ethanol subsidies and mandates, to creating the housing bubble that collapsed (taking the rest of the economy with it), and everything in between, they have a consistent record of failure.  Now it's CFLs.  People are being forced to switch from a reliable, economical, environmentally safe product to one which is none of these -- and a health and safety hazard to boot.

The politicians who passed the law phasing out incandescents wanted a trophy they could hold up to the voting public and say, "See, we gave you something better than what a free market could give you. We advanced society."  Instead of a trophy of success, they have a monument to the failure of their ideology and their ignorance of economics.  Politics is no substitute for economics.  It can only produce an uneconomic result: if the result were economic, it wouldn't require government coercion.  I write these articles and my books to demonstrate this.

The Big Government advocates are as ignorant of history as they are of economics.  How did Edison's carbon-filament bulb lead to the worldwide popularity of incandescent lights for well over a century?   Was it because government shoveled subsidies of taxpayer money to Edison to develop it and make it economic?  Or because government passed laws requiring people to buy those bulbs?  No, Edison developed the bulb on his own, and it had to prove itself to consumers.  It had to be better for them -- in their judgment, not that of politicians -- than the competition from kerosene lamps or Welsbach gas burners.

And how did kerosene lamps achieve their popularity over the coal oil and whale oil lamps which had been in use long before kerosene came on the market?  It was because buyers -- not government -- found kerosene an excellent product, and John D. Rockefeller's business efficiency and revolutionizing of the petroleum industry enabled him to sell it for less than competing oils.  (Rockefeller became the richest man in America by selling kerosene, not gasoline, which came later.)

Now we are being forced to buy CFLs -- judged inferior by many people, whose choices are overridden by the "superior" wisdom of arrogant, ignorant politicians -- and costing far more than incandescents.   We're going in the wrong direction, led by people who don't know what they are doing, who have no understanding of the nature of human progress -- that it results from the exercise of individual rights, not government obliteration of them.  Free markets allow for the exercise of those rights.  CFLs are a metaphor for America gone wrong.

Late note: The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission on May 12, 2011 issued a recall order for sixteen models of Telstar and Electra brand CFLs in twelve different wattages. "Hazard: The light bulbs can overheat, posing a fire hazard to consumers." LINK

Edmund Contoski is the author of Makers And Takers: How Wealth and Progress are Made and How They are Taken Away or Prevented and The Trojan Project, a Novel of Intrigue about Restoring America.
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