How much money does it take to screw in a compact fluorescent lightbulb? About $4.28 for the bulb and labor — unless you break the bulb. Then you, like Brandy Bridges of Ellsworth, Maine, could be looking at a cost of about $2,004.28, which doesn’t include the costs of frayed nerves and risks to health.
Sound crazy? Perhaps no more than the stampede to ban the incandescent light bulb in favor of compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) — a move already either adopted or being considered in California, Canada, the European Union and Australia.
According to an April 12 article in The Ellsworth American, Bridges had the misfortune of breaking a CFL during installation in her daughter’s bedroom: It dropped and shattered on the carpeted floor.
Aware that CFLs contain potentially hazardous substances
, Bridges called her local Home Depot for advice. The store told her that the CFL contained mercury and that she should call the Poison Control hotline
, which in turn directed her to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection
The DEP sent a specialist to Bridges’ house to test for mercury contamination. The specialist found mercury levels in the bedroom in excess of six times the state’s “safe” level for mercury contamination of 300 billionths of a gram per cubic meter
The DEP specialist recommended that Bridges call an environmental cleanup firm, which reportedly gave her a “low-ball” estimate of $2,000 to clean up the room
. The room then was sealed off with plastic and Bridges began “gathering finances” to pay for the $2,000 cleaning. Reportedly, her insurance company wouldn’t cover the cleanup costs because mercury is a pollutant.
Given that the replacement of incandescent bulbs with CFLs in the average U.S. household is touted as saving as much as $180 annually in energy costs — and assuming that Bridges doesn’t break any more CFLs — it will take her more than 11 years to recoup the cleanup costs in the form of energy savings.
Even if you don’t go for the full-scale panic of the $2,000 cleanup, the do-it-yourself approach is still somewhat intense, if not downright alarming
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