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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Light Bulbs and Mercury

What does legislation on incandescent light bulbs have to do with autism activism? A release from the National Center for Public Policy Research suggests the answer:
Rep. Mike Burgess, M.D. (R-TX) is expected to offer a light bulb regulation limitation amendment to the U.S. House Energy and Water Appropriations bill sometime after 3:30 this afternoon.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) is encouraging the move.

If opponents request a recorded vote, as expected, the vote on the amendment is expected to take place tomorrow.

"This is welcome but not surprising news," said Amy Ridenour, president of the National Center for Public Policy Research, who has been an outspoken opponent of the de facto ban on the most commonly sold incandescents. "The public response to the news that the federal government has taken away our light bulb choices is increasingly akin to the response of our ancestors to a tea tax. In both cases, the governments involved chose to interfere with the sale of something citizens of all classes all use, use often, and like a lot."

Ridenour was pictured with her autistic son, Jonathan, in front of their family's light bulb collection in a front page New York Times story in March. Ridenour opposes the de facto ban on limited government grounds, but first got interested in the issue because of her middle child's autism, she says. "The government is pushing us toward mercury-containing compact fluorescent bulbs, nicknamed CFLs," said Ridenour, "even as it advises us not to put them in rooms with children because these
bulbs are especially fragile and mercury is exposed if the bulbs break. Because
of his disability, our son doesn't understand that he should be careful around
bulbs, so breakage isn't an 'if,' it's a 'when.'"
Even if one does not believe that mercury causes autism, there still may be cause for concern, as Science Daily explains:
Once broken, a compact fluorescent light bulb continuously releases mercury vapor into the air for weeks to months, and the total amount can exceed safe human exposure levels in a poorly ventilated room, according to study results reported in Environmental Engineering Science, a peer-reviewed online only journal published monthly by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.

The amount of liquid mercury (Hg) that leaches from a broken compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) is lower than the level allowed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), so CFLs are not considered hazardous waste. However, Yadong Li and Li Jin, Jackson State University (Jackson, MS) report that the total amount of Hg vapor released from a broken CFL over time can be higher than the amount considered safe for human exposure. They document their findings in the article "Environmental Release of Mercury from Broken Compact Fluorescent Lamps."