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Queens Chronicle

Lights out for Edison’s bulbs

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Posted: Thursday, January 20, 2011 12:00 am

Incandescent light bulbs — the type invented by Thomas Edison — are about to go the way of the dinosaur.

First to depart will be the 100-watt bulb next January, followed by the 75-watt bulb in 2013 and the 60- and 40-watt bulbs in 2014. It’s all part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 passed by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush that requires 25 percent greater efficiency for light bulbs and phases out the old bulbs over the three-year period.

By 2020, the more environmentally friendly lighting in the form of compact fluorescent lights and to a lesser degree LEDs (light-emitting diodes), are expected to lower U.S. consumer electricity bills by more than $13 billion a year.

That’s if the mandate is not overturned. Recently, 15 Republican members of Congress reintroduced the Better Use of Light Bulbs Act that would repeal part of the 2007 act involving the phase out. “People don’t want Congress dictating what light fixtures they can use,” said Rep. Joe Barton of Texas.

The CFLs have been on the market for about 10 years, most featuring a squiggly, corkscrew design that is bulkier looking than the traditional bulb. Improvements continue to be made to make them more appealing and sleeker with a less glaring light that fit in more fixtures.

CFLs are also more expensive than traditional bulbs and contain mercury, which make recycling imperative, and they are more difficult to clean up if a bulb breaks at home. Nevertheless, environmentalists say the pros clearly outweigh the cons.

CFLs may cost more initially — about $3 to $4 compared to less than $1 for a traditional bulb — but can last up to 10 times longer than incandescents and use 75 percent less energy and save $40 over their lifetime. It’s been estimated that households can save from $12 to $20 a month in total energy costs.

LEDs, while not as widespread as CFLs yet, will cut energy usage even more and last at least twice as long. They are more expensive than CFLs and are often used in hard-to-reach locations, such as bridges, and commercial areas where lights have to be on at all times.

Eventually, better shapes for household use and a reduction in price are expected to make LEDs more common in the future, lighting experts say.

For those traditionalists who worry their sconces and chandeliers are doomed, never fear. The ban on traditional lighting does not affect bulbs less than 40 watts or more than 150 watts. Others exempt from the law include appliance bulbs, colored lights, three-way bulbs, many candelabra bulbs and bug lights.

Steve Scarpantonio, owner of the Shop-Rite True Value Hardware and Supply Center in Ozone Park, doesn’t think that people will hoard the traditional incandescent bulbs. “It’s the way of the future,” Scarpantonio said of the CFLs. “People should move on.”

He believes the 100-watt bulbs are the most popular kind since they will be the first ones banned, that people need to be informed about the change.

One prime example is James Cervino of College Point, who heads an environmental consulting firm in Long Island City, and is very concerned about recycling plans for the CFLs. Highly knowledgeable about mercury contamination, he was not aware of next year’s ban and the phase-out of incandescent bulbs.

“The government needs to come up with a disposal method and enforcement,” Cervino said. “CFLs can’t go into household waste for landfills.”

Although he applauds the energy-saving benefits of fluorescents, he fears the compounded effect of these bulbs that could make landfills toxic.

“Each CFL may contain just a small amount of mercury, but putting a large number of them in the ground is dangerous,” Cervino said. “Mercury causes cancer.”

He pointed to the lengthy cleanup procedures outlined by the federal Environmental Protection Agency if a bulb breaks at home. “Why do detailed instructions if it’s not dangerous?” Cervino asked.

The EPA advises that before beginning to clean up a broken bulb, people should leave the room, open a window and shut off any operating air heating or cooling systems.

Although he acknowledges that individual bulbs are not highly dangerous, Cervino insists that more legislation needs to be passed. “People are lazy and they are not going to dispose of them properly,” he said. “Enforcement is needed.”

Stuart Schneiderman, owner of Flushing Lighting Fixture and Electrical Supply Co., agrees. “Eventually, better disposal methods will be needed because nothing is in place now,” Schneiderman said. “It may require legislation to force people to recycle CFLs properly.”

In New York City and throughout the country, Home Depot stores have been recycling CFLs since 2008. The chain accepts all manufacturers’ bulbs.

Anthony Falcone, manager of the Glendale Home Depot store, said most people don’t know about the phasing out of traditional light bulbs, but that CFLs have become very popular. “We do a lot of recycling of the CFLs,” Falcone said. “People are using them.”

According to Jen King, spokeswoman for Home Depot’s Northern Division, its environmental management company follows all environmental and government guidelines for the disposal and recycling of household hazardous waste.

“The bulbs are broken down into their respective parts of glass, phosphor powder and mercury. The glass and mercury are then sold by the recyclers as commodities,” King said. “The phosphor powder is currently the only component that is not recycled and ships to a landfill.”

She added that the company is currently working with recyclers to come up with viable options to recycle or reuse the phosphor powder.

Another indication that traditional light bulbs are on their way out is the decision by IKEA, the world’s largest retailer of home furnishings, with a store in Brooklyn, to stop stocking or selling incandescent light bulbs, announced earlier this month. It also recycles used CFLs.

Schneiderman, of Flushing Lighting, says he used to order 10 cases of light bulbs a week; now he gets one case a month. “People are buying the CFLs and those who don’t know about the phase-out will have to buy something different because some of the old bulbs won’t be available starting next year,” he said.

CFL cleanup tips from EPA

Before cleanup

Have people and pets leave the room, and avoid the breakage area on the way out.

Open a window or door to the outdoors and leave the room for 5-10 minutes.

Shut off the central forced-air heating or air conditioning system.

Collect materials you will need to clean up the broken bulb: Stiff paper or cardboard, sticky tape such as duct tape, damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes, glass jar with a metal lid, such as a canning jar or a sealable plastic bag.

Cleanup steps for hard surfaces

Carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place debris and paper/cardboard in a glass jar with a metal lid. If a glass jar is not available, use a sealable plastic bag.(Note: Since a plastic bag will not prevent the mercury vapor from escaping, remove the plastic bag(s) from the home after cleanup.)

Use sticky tape to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.Place the used tape in the glass jar or plastic bag.

Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wipes. Place the towels in the glass jar or plastic bag.

Vacuuming of hard surfaces during cleanup is not recommended unless broken glass remains after all other cleanup steps have been taken. Note: It is possible that vacuuming could spread mercury-containing powder or mercury vapor, although available information on this problem is limited.If vacuuming is needed, keep the following tips in mind:

Keep a window or door to the outdoors open;

Vacuum the area where the bulb was broken using the vacuum hose, if available; and

Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister) and seal the bag/vacuum debris, and any materials used to clean the vacuum, in a plastic bag.

Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials, including vacuum cleaner bags, outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly.

Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your area. Some states and communities require fluorescent bulbs (broken or unbroken) be taken to a local recycling center.

Wash your hands with soap and water after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing debris and cleanup materials.

Continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the H&AC system shut off, as practical, for several hours.

Cleanup steps for rugs

Carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place debris and paper/cardboard in a glass jar with a metal lid. If a glass jar is not available, use a sealable plastic bag. Note: Since a plastic bag will not prevent the mercury vapor from escaping, remove the plastic bag(s) from the home after cleanup.

Use sticky tape to pick up any remaining glass fragments and powder.Place the used tape in the glass jar or plastic bag.

Vacuuming of carpeting or rugs during cleanup is not recommended unless broken glass remains after all other cleanup steps have been taken.Note: It is possible that vacuuming could spread mercury-containing powder or mercury vapor. If vacuuming is needed, keep the following tips in mind:

Keep a window or door open;

Vacuum the area where the bulb was broken using the vacuum hose, if available; and

Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister) and seal the bag/vacuum debris, and any materials used to clean the vacuum, in a plastic bag.

Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials, including vacuum cleaner bags, outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly.

Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements.

Wash your hands with soap and water after disposing of the jars or plastic bags.

Continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the H&AC system shut off for several hours.

Future cleaning of rugs

Air out the room during and after vacuuming.

The next several times you vacuum, shut off the H&AC system if you have one, close the doors to other rooms, and open a window or door to the outside before vacuuming.Change the vacuum bag after each use in this area.

After vacuuming is completed, keep the H&AC system shut off and the window or door to the outside open for several hours.

Welcome to the discussion.