Sometimes advocating alternatives requires pointing out the pitfalls of convention. In January of 2012, coerced by federal dictum, the light bulb industry will begin phasing out the incandescent bulb, a beacon of brilliance for nearly 150 years. This dictum promotes the conventional assumption that the fluorescent bulb as a light source is more attractive from an environmental and energy saving point of view. That isn’t the case.

Bush’s Legacy There is much with which to malign former president G.W. Bush and that includes the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Like the Patriot Act, the title of the law makes it sound like a really good idea. But also like the Patriot Act, it will turn out to be a very bad, unnecessary idea, eroding personal rights of Americans to choose and forcing us to use a device that is hazardous to our health.

The part of the law that legislates what kind of light bulb we can use was touted as a means to lower energy use and make the world better in an environmental sense. Now ordinarily that would be a great idea, advancing the common good and keeping the planet healthy. But in the case of replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lights or CFLs, the means actually run counter to the goal.

The law takes effect in all 50 states on January 1, 2012 and mandates that bulb manufacturers make all light bulbs at least 25 percent more energy-efficient. The first bulb to go will be the common 100-watt, everyday bulb. Lower wattage bulbs are scheduled to be phased out over the following couple of years.

The federal mandate doesn’t specifically outlaw possession or sale of incandescent bulbs but the de facto effect is that the only way the industry can meet the legal standard is by producing and selling CFLs. And though it is factual that a CFL requires less electricity to produce light, critics note that over the long term a CFL is less energy-efficient than an incandescent and is in fact an environmental and human health liability.

When considering the eco-efficiency of any “green” technology, including CFLs, one must account for something called life cycle assessment. In other words, what is the net gain or loss energy-wise from “cradle to grave” for any device? Factored into the criticism is that the construction of the complex CFLs takes more energy than the simple incandescent. Realistic assessments like one done by Klaus Stanjek on behalf of Greenpeace Hamburg, show that CFLs may require 10 to 40 times more energy and emissions to produce than it takes to manufacture an incandescent bulb. The energy savings in the home is one thing. The overall net loss to the planet is another.

Health costs Dr. Magda Havas is a leading researcher on the health effects of electromagnetic fields or EMF. Her research has found links between CFLs, EMF and a variety of symptoms. It’s well known that flickering fluorescents can trigger seizures and migraines in sensitive people but there is a whole host of problems that are linked to CFLs.

Dizziness, lightheadedness, heart palpitations, digestive disorders, skin rashes, complications for sufferers of multiple sclerosis have all been described. CFLs affect those who suffer from lupus and other light sensitivity issues.

As Havas states in her assessment for the Canadian government: “The energy efficient compact fluorescent lights that are commercially available generate radio frequency radiation, ultraviolet radiation, and dirty electricity; they contain mercury, a known neurotoxin; and they are making some people ill including those who suffer from migraines, epilepsy, skin problems and electrical sensitivity. With a growing number of people developing electrohypersensitivity we have a serious emerging and newly identified health risk that is likely to get worse until regulations restricting our exposure to electromagnetic pollutants are enforced. Also, with improper disposal of these bulbs we are creating a mercury-time bomb. Since everyone uses light bulbs and since the energy inefficient incandescent light bulbs are being phased out in many countries by 2010-2014, this is an area that requires immediate attention.”

As Havas and many others note, CFLs also contain mercury. (Incandescent bulbs do not.) Mercury is a deadly toxin. Imagine being faced with cleaning up a broken mercury-laced CFL bulb in your toddler’s bedroom. You don’t have to imagine. The Environmental Protection Agency spells the process out for you:

“Before cleanup Have people and pets leave the room. Air out the room for 5 to 10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoor environment. Shut off the central forced air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one. Collect materials needed to clean up broken bulb.

During cleanup Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder. Place cleanup materials in a sealable container. Dispose of at a facility capable of handling hazardous waste.

After cleanup Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly. Avoid leaving any bulb fragments or cleanup materials indoors. If practical, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the heating/air conditioning system shut off for several hours.”

Further details are even worse, advising against using a vacuum on the area for an extended period of time.

Kept in the dark In light of the fact that CFLs emit dangerous radiation and provide harsh, unnatural lighting, reports are coming in that people who want to avoid the dark side of CFLs and our enforced use of them have started to stockpile incandescent bulbs. Phone calls to local hardware stores provided little information as to whether the bulbs will be stocked after January 1. But a visit to one local grocery chain found the shelves devoid of 100-watt generics.

A number of states have introduced legal countermeasures to ensure availability of 100-watt bulbs. The most important part of the kilowatt kerfuffle is to know the prospective dangers of CFLs.

Be well.

Heartland Healing examines various alternative forms of healing. It is provided as a source of information, not as medical advice. It is not an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or The Reader. Access past columns at

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