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Author Topic: CFL bulbs and Toxic Mercury in China  (Read 18378 times)

Offline Anders Hoveland

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CFL bulbs and Toxic Mercury in China
« on: September 15, 2013, 04:49:34 pm »
Although the CFL bulbs themselves each contain small ammounts of mercury, what is seldom discussed is where all that waste mercury from the Chinese factories ends up. Virtually all CFL bulbs consumed in the USA are manufactured in China.

100 Chinese workers suffer mercury poisoning in CFL bulb factory
Hong Kong
January 7, 2010

More than 100 workers at a Chinese lighting factory have suffered suspected mass mercury poisoning in a case highlighting the lack of safeguards for China's factory workers, state media reported on Thursday.

The workers, with the China-listed Foshan Electrical and Lighting Co., had used liquid mercury on production lines at the plant in the China's southern manufacturing hub of the Pearl River Delta, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

"All six production lines of the workshop used liquid mercury, but some workers seldom took the trouble to wear masks," Xinhua reported, quoting Lu Ruijin, a manager at the firm. Note that this information is coming from the factory management, not the workers. There's a good chance that this may not be the whole story. For example, perhaps the workers were not even issued masks because of the added expense, or perhaps wearing cumbersome masks would have interfered with the fast pace of work and lowered production output.

Following complaints by workers over ill health, 152 workers were identified in tests as having suspected mercury poisoning. Authorities pledged compensation for affected workers, Xinhua reported, though the state of their health wasn't made clear.

Over the past year, a series of heavy-metal poisoning cases has come to light across China, underscoring the vulnerabilities of workers and the severity of industrial pollution as a consequence of China's rapid economic growth.

A factory in eastern China's Jiangsu province was shut down after causing lead poisoning in more than 50 children, state media reported. Last year, more than 1,350 children in south-central Hunan province suffered lead poisoning after exposure to pollutants from a manganese smelting plant.

Hong Kong-based labour rights group, Labour Action China, said factory workers in the Pearl River Delta, which churns out a third of China's exports, remained vulnerable to chemical hazards and exploitation, including unfair dismissals and unpaid wages.

All those CFL bulbs have to be made in China, rather than the USA, because the EPA's workplace worker protection regulations are so strict it would be prohibitively expensive to take all the proper safety precautions to protect American workers.


One Chinese factory worker anonymously described the situation:

"Sometimes the mercury would spill all over the floor. Some of it would mix with the water on the ground. Other bits would spill away, and we were just wearing shorts and sandals."

 Trying to reduce pollution by just focusing on your own country is rather stupid when you are ignoring the effects of your policies on the pollution this creates in another country.

This is not just from energy saving bulbs. Many of the environmental regulations in America and Europe that were intended to help the environment actually make things worse by just driving all the production away to China, where costs are lower because they do not have to worry about pollution or worker safety.

I wonder how much much waste mercury is actually being dumped into the environment in China because of the phasing out of the incandescent bulb in the Western countries?

Alarming Levels Of Mercury And Arsenic Found In Chinese Freshwater Ecosystem

A team of researchers, led by biologists at Dartmouth, has found potentially dangerous levels of mercury and arsenic in Lake Baiyangdian, the largest lake in the North China Plain and a source of both food and drinking water for the people who live around it.

Coal power plants and Mercury? No, CFLs still release more mercury!

There myth floating around, being perpetuated by various advertising campaigns, that incandescent bulbs actually result in more mercury emissions because of the coal power plants it takes to power them. This is just not true.
Only 38 percent of the United State's electricity is produced by coal. And the EPA has effectively banned new coal power plants, so your environmental arguments cannot hold as much weight anymore. And in many states/provinces, that percentage is far less. Why force a state that does not have any coal power plants to use CFL's ? In British Columbia, for example, over 86% of the power comes from hydroelectric dams. And in California, which has a population of 30 million people, only 1% of the state's power is generated by coal. So CFL's in California will only increase mercury pollution.

 Greater coal power mercury problem was only ever true where untreated coal power dominated, and is not true any longer. New injection and photochemical techniques along with conventional gasification and wet scrubber use have, and will, dramatically reduce all coal power mercury emissions:
USA Government EPA: 90% reduction by 2018, (phase 1 = 21% reduction by 2010, phase 2 = 69% further reduction by 2018):
"On March 15, 2005, EPA issued the Clean Air Mercury Rule to permanently cap and reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants for the first time ever. This rule makes the United States the first country in the world to regulate mercury emissions from utilities."

All about mercury and CFLs and emissions:

Not only is much of this mercury allowed to vaporize off into the air, or sometimes even dumped into the environment, but it takes more energy to make a CFL bulb than an ordinary bulb; 60% of China's energy comes from coal (more than the USA), Chinese power plants are less efficient so have to burn more coal per kilowatt generated, and China's coal is much dirtier than the grade used in the USA.

So how much mercury is really released to make a CFL bulb ?

Probably no one really knows.