Should you fear fluorescent bulbs, Vail Valley? |

Should you fear fluorescent bulbs, Vail Valley?

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Photo illustration by Theo Stroomer/Vail DailyBecause compact fluorescent light-bulbs contain a small amount of mercury, they shouldn't be dumped in the trash and sent to landfills.

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado “There’s a small environmental downside to compact fluorescent lightbulbs, which for years have been championed by environmentalists as the “green” way to light your home.

These distinctive coiled glass bulbs use 50 percent to 75 percent less energy than the traditional incandescent bulbs we’ve been using for more than a century, and are seen as one of the easiest ways for your average Joe to reduce the earth-warming emissions created by coal-fired power plants.

However, fluorescent light bulbs contain small amounts of mercury, a neurotoxin that can cause a wide range of health problems, including severe brain and nervous system damage.

While there’s only about 5 milligrams of mercury inside a compact fluorescent” an amount no bigger than the tip of a ball-point pen ” those small amounts could start adding up as the bulbs become more popular, and eventually end up in landfills when they break or burn out.

This doesn’t mean we should stop using them, says Matt Scherr, director of the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability. We just have to dispose of them properly.

“Lighting is the hugest electrical use in a household” switch those lightbulbs out, and you can save 20-30 percent on your bill,” Scherr said

Technically, it’s not illegal for you to throw away your used compact fluorescents with the rest of your garbage in Colorado. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do, said Pallavi Mukerjee, hazardous waste specialist for Eagle County.

Mercury is a dangerous, toxic substance that can put the people who work in landfills at risk, she said.

The most convenient thing to do is drop off your burnt out or broken compact fluorescents (sealed in bags) at Alpine Bank, with locations in Avon, Eagle, Edwards, Gypsum, Vail and El Jebel.

“Anyone in Eagle County could bring their compact fluorescent that no longer work to any Eagle County Alpine Bank,” said David Miller, chair of Alpine Bank’s Green Team.

When bins fill up at the banks, they’re recycled, Miller said. The program is funded by Holy Cross Energy.

Because the bulbs are supposed to last so long, it takes a while for the bins to fill up. Most of the bulbs are there because they were defective, not burned out.

The Eagle County Landfill also accepts compact fluorescents, Mukerjee said. And if you can wait a couple months, the county is building a new facility to process and sort hazardous materials, and it should be open by June, Mukerjee said.

The facility will be open three days a week, and that’s where you should take your used compact fluorescents, or other hazardous wastes like gasoline, thermometers, antifreeze and cleaners.

For now, Eagle County uses what Mukerjee calls a “bulb crusher,” which separates the glass and metal from the mercury, so the mercury can be stored safely without going in the landfill.

With easy ways to dispose of used or broken compact fluorescents, there’s no reason why everyone shouldn’t be using them, Scherr said.

Compact fluorescents aren’t perfect ” some have blue colored light, and others take forever to turn on” but the technology has improved over the years, Scherr said.

You can now find dimable compact fluorescents, different shaped bulbs for different kinds of fixtures, bulbs with clean looking light close to that of incandescents, and even cheaper bulbs at about $2 a pop.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or

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