Ever since the discovery or more appropriately development of electric bulb by Thomas Edison in 1879 , man is used to artificial lighting based on electricity, a far cry from the ancient era of fat based and kerosene fueled lamps. The conventional Tungsten bulb has an omnipotent presence in the lives of people across the world. Emergence of modern day fluorescent lamps introduced in 1927, commonly known as tube lights, changed the very face of lighting technology with more lights being emitted per watt of electricity consumed than the ordinary incandescent electric bulb. Energy efficiency has been the watch word of the electrical industry in driving innovations and many improvements have come about in the designs of lighting systems reducing power consumption per unit of light emitted. Advent of Compact Fluorescent Light popularly referred to as CFL has enabled very significant power saving and the developments in LED technology are expected to revolutionize the lighting industry dramatically in the coming years.
CFL is considered as the 'green bulb' because of its longer life and reduced electricity consumption. According to industry sources an incandescent lamp may have an effective life span of 750-1000 hours while CFL can last 6000 to 15000 hours. Energy consumption by CFL is less than one fifth that of an incandescent lamp. The conventional electric bulbs are usually disposed off at the house hold level along with garbage and are not considered as a great risk to the environment. Though unit price of CFL is almost 10-15 times higher, their long life span encourages consumers to go in for them and this is indeed an encouraging sign because of lesser power consumption and reduced volume of waste in the form of fused bulbs. Many governments also encourage citizens to buy CFL through supportive policies.
What is causing alarm is the presence of mercury in CFL, up to 5 mg per bulb, which gives it the higher illuminating capacity and the way the used bulbs are disposed off. There are alarming reports of discarded CFL bulbs which get broken during refuse handling finding their way to water bodies near urban areas. Large dumps can be seen in the vicinity of many towns near lakes and rivers and leaching of mercury from them can pose real time danger to the citizens especially if mercury finds its way to drinking water sources. Mercury can kill the aquatic life and affect biodiversity adversely. It is a proven carcinogen at higher levels if gains entry into the blood stream. Central Nervous System is affected and vision can be impaired.
Children, if exposed to mercury can develop pink disease (acrodynia) affecting the entire body.
Mercury poisoning is often referred to as hydragaria or mercurialism and can affect adults also. Diseases like acrodynia, Hunter-Russel Sydrome and Minamata disease are caused by mercury consumption beyond the safe limit. Sensory impairment in vision, hearing and speech and disturbed sensation, lack of coordination are common in mercurialism. Internationally a limit of 2 ppb has been set as safe limit for mercury in drinking water and 1 ppm in sea foods.
In India no reliable data is available regarding the extent of environment pollution caused by the CFL industry and no responsibility has been cast on them to control environmental hazard unlike EU and other countries which have put in place the Extended Producers Responsibility (EPR) for controlling mercury contamination from CFL bulbs. It is time that organized efforts are made in the country to collect discarded CFL bulbs for scientific disposal and prevent wide spread contamination of water sources that can cause large scale aquatic damage and slow poisoning of the population.