Dr-Fix-It! Notebook Archive:
Problems with Fluorescents . . .
Fluorescent lighting is about 3 to 4 times more efficient than incandescent lighting, and fluorescent lamps can last about 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. They run cooler and cheaper than incandescents. But, flourescents have some problems.
One problem is flicker and flash. Many fluorescent lamps require a starter device to preheat the electrodes and to provide the high-voltage "kick" needed for starting. Sometimes several attempts are needed to get the tube to light which results in the familiar flash, flash, flash. If either the ballast, the starter or one of the tubes is faulty, the lamps will flicker.
To eliminate flicker and flash, you can replace standard starters and ballasts with inexpensive solid state electronic starters and ballasts. These sophisticated microprocessors perform better than regular starters and ballasts because they can accurately control the ignition pulse. Other features include a benign tolerance to oddball voltages and an intellegent shutdown of burned-out fluorescent lamps to prevent all of that annoying flickering.
To boot, you get an added savings benefit! Using solid state electronic starters and ballasts can double the life of a fluorescent lamp. Longer lamp life means lower maintenance costs and less downtime to replace burned-out lamps. For industrial and commercial users, the labor savings could range from one dollar to possibly hundreds of dollars per lamp, depending on how difficult they are to replace.
To me, the biggest problem with fluorescent lamps is that they contain mercury. Fluorescent lamps work by passing an arc of electricity through mercury vapor in the lamp. The charged mercury atoms give off ultraviolet radiation, which is energizes that phosphor powder coating on the inside of the glass lamp. These energized phosphors emit the light you see.
Mercury is the only metal which is a liquid at room temperature. It is considered to be highly toxic to humans and animals. Exposure is either by inhaling mercury vapor, ingesting or absorption through the skin. Small children and pregnant women are most vulnerable to mercury poisoning. Mercury can have a permanent impact on fetal and child development, affecting children's memory, hearing, vision and ability to learn. It can also delay their walking and speaking and cause behavior problems. In adults, mercury exposure can cause tremors, memory loss and damage to the central nervous system.
Ordinarily people don't pay much attention to a broken fluorescent tube. It is just some broken glass and some white power on the floor. A fairly routine happening around the office. But, breaking a fluorescent lamp can actually have the potential of causing harm to people in the room through exposure to mercury and mercury vapor.
You might be surprised to learn that the politically correct right way to handle a broken fluorescent bulb is to treat it as a hazardous spill. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality recommends this procedure:
Do you have a fluorescent lamp recycler in your city? I don't. I checked all the recyclers within fifty miles and none recycle fluorescent lamps. I called the local waste collection company to ask if they had any recommendations for the safe disposal of fluorescent tubes. The representative said that he was aware that the corporate office had some sort of policy for taking care of fluorescents but "most people around here just toss them in the dumpster and we take them to the landfill". I suspect that is true nearly everywhere.
All in all, the environmental impact of fluorescent lighting is positive because they operate with far less electricity than comparable incandescents. Just be careful with fluorescent tubes and beware of what is inside them.
Thanks to State of Oregon DEQ