Ministry of Health comment on CFLs and mercury poisoning

Sally Gilbert, Manager, Environmental and Border Health, commented today on the risk of mercury poisoning from energy-saving lightbulbs; “The public health risk from energy-saving light bulbs only exists when the bulbs break and release small amounts of mercury in the environment (ie the mercury cannot escape from an intact lamp).

The amount of mercury in the light bulbs is less than in a mercury thermometer — you need to break over 100 compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) to be exposed to the same amount of a mercury thermometer (5 mg vs 500 mg).  The very small amount of mercury contained in a single CFL is most unlikely to pose any significant health risk if guidelines for a safe clean-up are followed. The bulbs also operate at a lower temperature than incandescent bulbs so are less likely to become stuck in the socket and break when removed.

The Ministry of Health is currently reviewing the clean-up guidelines for broken light bulbs on the Ministry for the Environment’s website.  The Ministry is also undertaking a full health risk assessment and the results from that assessment are expected to be available by mid-August 2008.”