Virginia lawmaker defends critique of CFL bulbs

An ongoing spat between a Virginia research organization and state Delegate Bob Marshall involving CFL bulbs continued last week as the lawmaker defended his statements form earlier this month.

On Thursday, February 2, Marshall told the House of Delegates that a broken CFL bulb can be hazardous to the residents of a home, particularly to children and pregnant women. He said that individuals cleaning up broken bulbs needed to dispose of clothing and shoes that may have been contaminated by mercury contained within the bulb, and he cited a study that found one bulb could contaminate 6,000 gallons of water.

PolitiFact Virginia, a subset of The Richmond Times-Dispatch, challenged Marshall's assertion on the grounds that the amount of mercury found in CFL bulbs is significantly less than mercury amounts found in thermometers. According to GreenBuildings, an average CFL bulb contains about one to four milligrams of mercury, which is significantly less than the amount of mercury in a thermometer – 500 milligrams.

Marshall responded with an article posted to his website Feburary 16 in which he reasserts his statements and lists several states that have posted warnings about mercury cleanup.

"Many fact sheets dealing with mercury spills do not specifically speak to broken CFLs, but those that do indicate that you should open a window, close the door and let the room air out, and then not use a vacuum, broom or any other non-disposable item to clean up the broken bulb," Marshall said.

While Marshall is correct that precautions should be taken when cleaning up bulbs, many of the state fact sheets he cited do not specifically mention the powder and dust fragments from a broken CFL bulb – only the mercury beads that spill out of a broken thermometer.

Virginia homeowners should be aware of cleanup strategies for broken CFL bulbs, but they should also know that these bulbs use far less energy than incandescent bulbs and help create energy-efficient homes.