Tuesday 21 December 2010
I was disturbed to hear the story of a couple who accidentally broke a low-energy CFL (compact fluorescent) light bulb over their bed. It was late evening and the woman was pregnant, so there were few sources of advice. But the advice they were given by NHS Direct and a light bulb manufacturer was to remove and destroy their bedding.
When I looked into this I found little UK information; the packaging of the CFL bulbs that I had in the cupboard did not have any warnings that caused alarm. Then I started delving on the internet and found that the source of this advice was based on incidents in the USA, which had also been picked up by New Zealand (investigatemagazine.com August 2008). http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=are-compact-fluorescent-lightbulbs-dangerous Was this an anti-CFL campaign by those who didn’t like this type of bulb, or are there genuine concerns? If the latter, then why isn’t the information readily available when we buy CFL bulbs in the UK?
Have the hazards of CFL bulbs been played down in the drive to reduce our energy demand? For a while these were the only alternative to conventional tungsten light bulbs, which are less energy efficient and generate heat as well as light. Maybe CFL bulbs were a stop-gap whilst other energy-efficient alternatives were being developed, e.g. light bulbs based on light-emitting diodes (LED). Maybe the benefits of reducing our energy demand and carbon dioxide emissions, through the use of these bulbs, outweighed any risks due to accidental breakages. After all, how often do you accidentally break a light bulb?
Here are a few facts I discovered:
CFL and ordinary fluorescent tubes do contain mercury;
Mercury is toxic, but whether the toxicity is manifested depends on what form it is in and the length of exposure;
The key issue seems to be to remove the mercury from the home in a way that won't disperse it around the house, that avoids it accumulating in organic material, e.g. fibres such as bedding, carpet or wood, and reduces the time that anyone is exposed to it;
The first thing is to ventilate the room for 15 – 30 minutes, with the doors closed, with any air circulation system turned off, and everyone out of the room;
Putting bedding in a washing machine, or vacuuming the floor just disperses the contamination. This should not be done as it then creates a need to decontaminate the washing machine or vacuum cleaner;
Instead the broken pieces should be removed using a dustpan and stiff piece of card (not a brush) or sticky tape for very small pieces;
The advice available strongly suggests getting rid of any bedding/carpet that was in actual contact with the broken pieces of the lightbulb, as the mercury could lodge in the fibres and just stay there. Any materials removed will need to be double-wrapped before being taken to a waste site;
For a discussion of the issues around CLF bulbs, and the LED alternatives, it’s worth looking at Holistic Health Talk. http://www.holistichelp.net/blog/compact-fluorescent-light-bulbs-the-dangers-of-cfls/
Friday 03 December 2010
Britain has some of the oldest housing stock in Europe and by 2050 most of our housing stock will not meet the modern requirements for insulation. So the Green Deal is to encourage us to improve these houses, including those difficult to insulate houses that haven’t been improved under previous measures. What does this mean? Well, apparently the most energy inefficient homes in the UK could save around £550 per year by installing insulation measures under the Green Deal.
The first step in the Green Deal will be an energy survey to give advice on the best options – so like an EPC then?
The second step is the finance for householders, which will be provided by energy companies and high street stores. Houseowners will then pay this money back over a period, the repayments being a lesser amount than the savings on energy bills as a result of the measures. The loan stays with the house.
The third step is that the householder (or business) receives their energy efficiency package. Only accredited measures will be installed by appropriately-qualified installers, overseen by Government – sounds like money generation for the training and accreditation bodies.
Our high street stores are already getting involved in green measures, e.g. providing vouchers in return for recycling in the Maidenhead area; provided you spend some money on goods from their stores! Our energy suppliers are under an obligation to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from homes, therefore they have an incentive for all schemes of this type to succeed.
The Green Deal is also meant to provide employment, increasing the insulation sector from 27,000 to 100,000 employed. Does this mean that there will be reasonably paid work for Domestic Energy Assessors at last? Or will we have to jump through another £3,000 + VAT of training hoops to get a look in, only to find everyone else has done the same?