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Heartland Institute Reacts to BULB Act Vote

On July 11, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to begin debate on H.R. 2417, the Better Use of Light Bulbs (BULB) Act to reverse the 2007 de facto ban on the sale of most incandescent light bulbs in the United States.

The following statements, by policy experts at The Heartland Institute, may be used for attribution. For additional comments, refer to the contact information below, or email Tammy Nash ( or Jim Lakely at (, or call 312-377-4000.

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) contain about four milligrams of mercury. So when you factor in over one billion CFLs in use today and growing, you have a vast potential for mercury contamination directly inside homes from bulb breakage and improper disposal. When the four billion light sockets in homes are filled with CFLs (18 tons of mercury), considerations of mercury contamination from coal-burning power plants may look silly.

EPA estimates annual mercury emissions from power plants are 50 tons per year. If you spread this amount over the three million square miles of the lower 48 states, you get a density of 0.28 milligrams per 1,000 square feet. A conservative estimates for CFLs employed in homes would be 10 CFLs per 1,000 square feet. This would give a potential mercury contamination directly in homes of 40 milligrams per 1,000 square feet.

Let us assume annual breakage of 1 percent; then mercury contamination directly inside homes would amount to 0.40 milligrams per 1,000 square feet. Mercury contamination from power plants will be mostly confined outside and individuals spend most of their time inside. So exposure to mercury contaminants from CFLs will be far greater than threats from power plants.

No mention has been made of the billions of fluorescent light bulbs that have been used in homes, schools, factories, and businesses for more than 50 years. These bulbs contain fifty milligrams of mercury and their pollution potential is staggering.

James H. Rust
Policy Advisor
The Heartland Institute
Professor, Nuclear Engineering
Georgia Institute of Technology (Ret.)

The elimination of Mr. Edison's incandescent bulbs belongs in the pantheon of political stupidity. It would seem obvious that a course in science is not required for a seat at our government, or Congress would not be taken in by the boasts that compact fluorescent bulbs will last five times longer.

Tests to support this claim involved simply turning on a CFL and seeing how long it stays lit. Indeed in that format they do stay on a very long time. Unfortunately that is not how we use our bulbs. Here in the United States we turn the light on and off all day long. Even without a course in physics, common sense will tell you this will stress the bulb excessively, reducing in most cases its useful life to half of that predicted. It is a similar mistake to building a windmill and listing its potential energy capacity at a quantity based on its operation 24/7 at optimum wind speed – which is, in fact, what we erroneously do.

With common sense and a bit of physics one can predict that compact fluorescent bulbs will never pay off the excessive cost in energy savings or capital outlays. Now when you add the cost of time, inconvenience, and the cost of disposing of an item containing mercury, which EPA has recently declared far more dangerous than previously thought, we have installed a truly lopsided economic effort. Some even say if you break a CFL in your house you are creating a hazardous waste site and others will go as far as to say you now have a superfund site on your hands.

While I am not inclined to support the idea that people can rise from the dead, I do believe that somewhere, somehow Thomas Edison is making a strong effort to do so.

Jay Lehr, Ph.D.
Science Director
The Heartland Institute


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