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Friday, May 4, 2007
Farah Misleads About Fluorescent Bulbs
Topic: WorldNetDaily

An April 16 WorldNetDaily article by Joseph Farah on the alleged toxicity of "energy-saving and money-saving compact fluorescent lamps" that "everyone is being urged, cajoled and guilt-tripped into purchasing" featured the case of the Brandy Bridges family, who purportedly faced a $2,000 bill to clean up mercury contamination in their home after a fluorescent bulb broke. Since the family could not afford it and insurance would not cover it, the family "has been forced to seal off her daughter's bedroom [where the bulb broke] with plastic to avoid any dust blowing around. Not even the family pets are permitted in to the bedroom. Her daughter is forced to sleep downstairs in an overcrowded household."

Turns out Farah's article is a load of scaremongering hooey.

Via PZ Myers (h/t Oliver Willis), we learn that the newspaper article from which Farah apparently lifted his story about the Bridges family pointed out that a four-figure cleanup following a broken fluorescent bulb is unnecessary overkill:

Officials have said that Bridges has little to worry about and she could easily clean up the bulbs by hand.

State Toxicologist Andrew Smith said it would be unlikely that a person could contract mercury poisoning from the levels of mercury found in Bridges’ daughter’s room.

“In this situation, my understanding, was this 1,900 was the sign reading right at the spot of the floor where the bulb broke,” said Smith. “While 1,900 was certainly considered an elevated reading of mercury vapor, it was a very localized level that I would not expect to result in any sign of mercury exposure.”

Smith said mercury is only dangerous with long-term exposure and in this case the person would have to stay right at the spot of the 1,900 reading or there would have to be elevated levels of mercury vapor in the breathing zone — about 3 feet — above the spill. Mercury also dissipates over time.

The air in the bedroom at the 3-foot level measured between 31 to 49 ng/m3 of mercury, depending on the location.

Smith said a CFL light bulb breaking is not in the same category as when a mercury thermometer breaks.


Scott Cowger, director of outreach and communications for the DEP, said the DEP’s Web site ( has guidelines for cleaning up a broken fluorescent bulb.

Cowger said it is important to ventilate the area by opening windows and not to vacuum the area of the broken bulb, which may spread the mercury. While wearing appropriate safety gloves, glasses, coveralls or old clothing and a dust mask, a person can remove the glass pieces and put them in a closed container.

The dust can be cleaned up using either two pieces of stiff paper, a disposal broom and dustpan or a commercial mercury spill kit. Afterward, the area should be patted with the sticky side of tape, according to the DEP Web site.

Cowger said all the items used in cleaning up the spill should be treated as “universal waste” or a household hazardous waste that can be disposed of without hiring professionals.


The DEP spokesman said, though, it “isn’t necessary to hire professionals at all” for a light bulb. The specialist who responded to Bridges’ broken bulb was trained to respond to chemical spills and to clean up such spills to “appropriate standards.”

So the bedroom doesn't need to be sealed off! They can air out the room and sweep up the glass! There's absolutely no reason to spend $2,000!

Further, Myers adds that according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the amount of mercury in a compact fluorescent bulb, plus the amount of mercury emissions from the electricity needed to power that bulb (as generated by a coal-fired power plant) is still less than the mercury emissions generated for the electricity needed to operate an incandescent bulb.

Farah didn't mention any of this. No surprise -- for being the head of a "news" organization, Farah's own reporting record is abysmal.

Posted by Terry K. at 9:35 AM EDT

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