Last Updated:November 28 @ 07:44 am

Brown: The EPA's Mercury Problem

By Susan Stamper Brown

Ninety-six. That's the number of 60-watt incandescent light bulbs I purchased last weekend after learning the other kind, the compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) environmentalists are so in love with, are hazardous to my health and to the environment. I would have preferred a higher wattage but discovered the 75-watt version was outlawed January 1st.

It took about three hours to replace every CFL bulb in my house and carefully place them in a huge plastic container used to transport them to the recycling center at a local home improvement store. I said a quick prayer for safety while coasting down the road in my SUV. A HAZMAT decal would have come in handy because had I been in a collision, I had enough mercury on board to make the evening news. And because I am a Conservative, they might have labeled me a home-grown terrorist.

CFLs aren't all they're cracked up to be. Back in 2008, some Yale University scientists isolated CFLs' benefits down to one: lower energy bills. The scientists questioned whether a little savings was worth the danger attached to mercury exposure and "runoff downstream."

Besides making the environment sick, researchers recently discovered these "environmentally friendly" light bulbs aren't friendly to humans either. According to the UK Telegraph, CFLs "should not be left on for extended periods, particularly near someone's head" because "they emit poisonous materials when switched on." The report found those "carcinogenic substances" should be "kept as far away as possible from the human environment" because they may cause migraines, skin problems and breast cancer. Great.

It really makes no sense. Somehow it's okay to have mercury housed in delicate glass bulbs inside every home in America, yet the EPA feels compelled to enact new regulations like the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) limiting mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants promising MATS would raise kids' IQs, prevent a substantial amount of premature deaths, reduce heart attacks, and lessen childhood asthma. I'd settle for weight control and whiter teeth.

Sounds wonderful. Problem is, the EPA's logic is about as twisted as a CFL, considering most people don't live next to a coal-fired plant, but every home in America using CFLs is at risk of mercury exposure.

They say the pricey CFL's are cost efficient, but fail to mention their measure for efficiency decreases if the bulbs are switched on and off. Nor do they discuss the outrageous price per bulb or the gas usage (carbon footprint) involved in transporting old bulbs. They also fail to factor in human nature; most people will simply discard old bulbs instead of spending their Saturday driving to the recycling center.

Seems to me, enacting the most expensive EPA rule revision in history, MATS, has less to do with people and more to do with coal-fired plants. Back in January 2012, the Washington Times said the rule will cost power plants up to $18 billion a year and "will be passed directly to consumers." I've always believed Progressives love the planet but hate the people who live on it. Think about it. They are quick to condemn environmental violators but conveniently ignore the massive amounts of mercury Mother Nature herself spews out by way of volcanoes, deep-sea vents and geysers. Maybe we should tax the planet, just for good measure.

According to Power Engineering Magazine, by 2016, EPA rules will force the shutdown of "32 mostly coal-fired power plants" in 12 states, and possibly 36 others. The shutdowns will lead to higher power costs, less jobs, and potential rationing. Before long, we'll be rubbing sticks together to cook food, stay warm, and find our way to the community outhouse.

But, in the meantime...tonight I celebrate. I purged my home of all those hazy mercury-filled bulbs and I'm switching on every last one of my incandescent bulbs to celebrate -- in hopes the Google Earth satellite will drift my way and snap a picture. My house will be one of the brightest spots on the planet, second only to Al Gore's.


Susan Stamper Brown is an opinion page columnist, motivational speaker and military advocate who writes about politics, the military, the economy and culture. Email Susan at or her website at

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  1. prlizComment by prliz
    January 9, 2013 @ 2:29 pm

    I want my damned light bulbs back. It is outrageous what these people have done to us. I literally have a closet in my basement packed with 100 and 75 watt incandescents. But I find myslef rationing the use of these precious items for fear I will run out if they burn out. Can you believe this? Is this really the USA? I want my damned lightbulbs back and I want to choose incandescent over poisonous bulbs. I am so sick of what we send to Washington.

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    • freelynComment by freelyn
      January 12, 2013 @ 9:52 am

      Listen everyone go Halogen – they contain no mercury, are slightly more energy efficient than traditional incandescent, create light that is more like natural sunlight and don’t cost much more than a traditional bulb. The reason CFLs was pushed was because of Crony Capitalism. (BLAME G.E. Generally Evil Corp.)

      Here is an example halogen but there are many others –

      Fight back against CFLs.

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  2. rabidrepublicanComment by rabidrepublican
    January 9, 2013 @ 4:55 pm

    No problem. The free market will always find a way to overcome nannystate government types! Just long on to They make 130V “rough service” bulbs that are not covered by the ban. They look expensive until you notice how long they last. Like you, I bought a HUGE quantity of bulbs, but I am finding out that ever since the bulb makers moved overseas, that the bulbs don’t last very long. I have had several burn out in a week or less! I wish I had just bought these to start with!

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  3. joe23006Comment by joe23006
    January 9, 2013 @ 5:23 pm

    I only ever bought two, one was in the lamp by my bed, it was supposed to be the same wattage but I read every night and had to hold the book practically under the lamp, it also le out a low frequency hum that was really disturbing. It didn’t last any longer than the good old incandescent one. The other is in the spare bedroom and is never used. Like flourescent lights and computer monitors, they are hard on the eyes. Maybe there is a conspiracy among eye doctors and eyeglass manufacturers!

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  4. notaphilistineComment by notaphilistine
    January 9, 2013 @ 7:21 pm

    oh my goodness, what a lot of noise over lightbulbs. Most new technology goes through some cliches before its ironed out and we can’t remember what the debate was about. Just ask your blacksmith next time you get your horse re-shoed. I wish Susan ‘dim bulb’ Brown wouldn’t compare the pollution Mother Nature contributes to the environment to man’s. Earth is a few million years old, seems to have worked out an equilibrium, mankind has only been here a few thousand AND still cannot find the right balance. Maybe that proves my statement, hope we can iron out the cliches in time.

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  5. truckmanComment by truckman
    January 9, 2013 @ 7:38 pm

    I switched over to CFL’s 4 years ago,and haven’t had much trouble with ‘em so far. They’ve been saving me about $20.00 per month on my electric bill,and make substantially more light than the old bulbs did. Mine have lasted a lot longer,too,except they don’t hold up so well in my drop-lights in the shop-have to be careful not to drop the lights. Okay-so you change back to the incandescents. They’re closing them out in stages-100′s first,then 75′s,then 60′s,then 40′s,on down the line. So-THEN what do you do? Buy lots of candles?
    My biggest issue with the CFL’s is that it costs more to make ‘em and there’s considerably more pollution created MAKING ‘em,on a “per bulb” basis than the old traditional bulbs. The Mercury issue is another thing. HOWEVER-I’m now living below the Poverty level and am disabled so even if I could afford to switch back,I would be annoyed at having to be replacing bulbs more often. I leave a couple on all night,outside,so if I have to shoot an intruder I’ll be able to make a clean shot. As far as I’m concerned,I prefer what I have to what I’d be changing back to.

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    • wallybluComment by wallyblu
      January 11, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

      How much is your electric bill if changing from incandescet to CFLs takes $20.00 off of it.

      Since I have an electric stove and oven, TVs, a well run by electricity, saws and other woodworking tools and other things run by electricity, I can’t believe I could cut my electric bill by 1/3 just by changing to CFLs.

      Yes with all the above my electric bill runs about $60.00 per month.

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  6. empty pocketsComment by empty pockets
    January 10, 2013 @ 10:02 am

    If CFL’s are such a great idea, so energy and cost efficient, so good for people and the environment…why was the free market, the most efficient measure of successful ideas–legislated out of the equasion?

    I don’t like CFL’s. I don’t leave lights on unless I’m using them. Carryover from my Depression era parents who wasted NOTHING. I also have tinnitus-lots of sounds always in my head (no voices though!)-and unfortunatley the hum the CFL’s emit is in the range I can still hear clearly and it’s annoying. Then I read about the proper disposal of one that has broken (hello hazmat). And about how they’re mostly made in countries where environmental protections are all but nonexistant. Where the safety of the workers is not considered (so NOT “saving the earth” or looking out for the “workers”). But then I never liked ANY flourescent bulbs and did away with them every chance I got (got a “sunburn” from working too close to one from its ultraviolet emissions).

    I think if you like CFL’s, want them, know all about them and still prefer them…you should be able to use them.

    I also think if you prefer incandescent bulbs in any wattage, know all about them and still prefer them then you should be able to use THEM.

    It’s called the free market. It should be the consumer’s choice, not some politician who rarely even reads what he/she legislates into law.

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  7. middlegroundComment by middleground
    January 10, 2013 @ 11:30 am

    I have a light bulb in a hanging ceiling light that I will replace with a $10 CFL bulb because it takes someone with a 20 foot ladder to replace it and my wife likes to turn it on because the lighted fixture looks nice lighted and as I am in my mid 80s I can no longer manage a 20 foot ladder safely.

    The above is the only situation in my home where a CFL light makes economic sense because unlike some people I’ve looked at the 24 hour power usage graphs and know the difference between peak and offpeak power costs. Only government and others who benefit from the cheap cost of offpeak power can imagine CFLs made in China from Chinese raw material are a good deal for Americans. This is merely another example of a foreign government taking advantage of our Lobbyist situation to milk the nation’s citizens using congressional ignorance.

    But the pathetically amusing aspect is that if I were to throw a CFL bulb into a river and test the water for mercury 20 kilometers downstream using an ICPMS (Induced Couple Plasma Mass Spectrometer), I could probably condemn the entire river for exceeding EPA contaminant levels. The last quarter century has seen fantastic advances in the sensitivity of analytical chemistry and prior to these advances the cutting edge was Optical and X-Ray Spectroscopy with a heavy element like mercury producing such complex spectra the detection levels were much higher. I think it would be an interesting experiment in education to show Linus Pauling’s three one hour lectures on the “Nature of the Chemical Bond” to a class of first graders and see how many would grasp how the study of x-ray spectra was used to understand the relation between energy, atoms and molecules. I suspect a lot of those in that class would become spellbound and understand the mark of real genius is to take the complex and present it in an understandably simple form.

    It is my belief we sell our youth short as to their intellectual abilities and a scientifically literate population would never accept half the c=== being peddled by today’s media and schools.

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  8. rabidrepublicanComment by rabidrepublican
    January 11, 2013 @ 6:41 pm

    When is was in college, I had the opportunity to tour a manufacturing plant that made incandescent light bulbs (before this shortsighted “ban” forced these plants to go overseas), and it was absolutely fascinating, it was like a mechanical ballet. A white hot stream of molten glass would be poured into the beginning of the process (it was called a “ribbon” machine, I think for this ribbon of glass) and the molds would close while an air nozzle would force a small amount of the molten glass into the mold and inflate it like a balloon inside the mold. It is very hard to describe how amazing this was for a green Manufacturing Engineering student, but 30 years later, it is still one of most memorable manufacturing operations I have ever seen. The process was so fast that you could not keep your eye on a single bulb as it moved down the line. Any scrap material was simply broken and melted again so it could be re-used. This plant made close to 1 1/2 MILLION bulbs a day with something around 40 employees. That is the definition of efficiency, and it should be celebrated and copied, not legislated out of the country.

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