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CFL Light Bulbs – How Much Poisonous Mercury Do They Contain?

There’s not a single CFL light bulb that does not contain mercury. The 4 mg of heavy metal, on average, is integral to the operation of the bulb.

Is the 4 mg of mercury per bulb going to harm the environment so much that using them hurts Mother Nature more than it helps her?

How Mercury Affects People

Mercury can literally make you mad. It affects the brain in a way that actually makes people crazy.

The term “mad as a hatter” was coined because of mercury poisoning. Hat manufacturing involved a lot of the heavy metal around the turn of the 19th century. Workers in the hat factory gained a reputation for being crazy due to their exposure.

Are We At Risk For Exposure?

Mercury is naturally occurring and is released into the atmosphere naturally on a daily basis. Humans also release mercury into the atmosphere through a number of different processes.

The metal actually evaporates into the air where it makes its way into the water cycle. It falls back to the earth with rain where it enters our ponds and streams. As it’s ingested by small fish it makes it way up the food chain where it can be found in higher concentrations in large fish.

Swordfish and tuna are two of the most well known carriers of the metal that are commonly eaten by people. By eating too many fish that have large concentrations of mercury we can actually be exposed to unsafe levels.

If There Is Mercury In The Air, How Much Of It Is Our Fault?

Coal fired power plants add about 50 metric tons of mercury to the atmosphere every year. That’s about half of the total amount that humans generate.

In the year 2009, .12 metric tons of mercury were used to manufacture CFL bulbs. Assuming that every single bulb that was made that year went was sent to the landfill and was subsequently broken, that’s exactly how much mercury would have been released into the air.

If We Go Back To Incandescent, Will Mercury In The Environment Drop?

A typical CFL bulbs has a lifespan of 8,000 hours. To illuminate that bulb for the full 8,000 hours we would release 1.2 milligrams of mercury while producing the power. Each bulb accounts for .44 mg of mercury through power generation.

On the other hand, an incandescent bulb has zero mercury in it. The difference is the amount of power required to illuminate 8,000 hours worth of incandescent bulbs. You’re going to need a lot more energy. For 8,000 hours of incandescent lighting your total release of mercury into the environment is going to be 5.5 mg.

The bottom line is that, despite the mercury paranoia, we will release much less mercury into the environment if we all switch to CFL light bulbs. You’ll save energy, money, and reduce harmful mercury levels in the environment.

This guest post is written by Lucas Jenkins. Lucas is the owner and webmaster of the site Affordable Home Remodeling Ideas.

Clay Miller
the authorClay Miller
I am the creator/writer of and I'm an advocate for oceans, beaches, state parks. I enjoy all things outdoors (e.g. running, golf, gardening, hiking, etc.) I am a graduate of the University of Kentucky (Go Wildcats!!). I'm also a huge fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I was born and raised in the beautiful state of Kentucky.

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