The Truth About CFLs and Mercury

There is more mercury in one bite of albacore tuna than there is in one CFL.

Yes, CFLs contain mercury. So do laptop computers, TVs, telephones, and tuna fish sandwiches.

On average, CFLs contain 4 milligrams of mercury each (that amount would almost cover the tip of a ballpoint pen). LCD projector TVs, by comparison, contain 500-100 milligrams of mercury. One bite of albacore tuna contains more mercury than a CFL.

Many people think about mercury emissions in a very simplistic manner. (Sure, the mercury in a CFL may be a trace amount, but incandescent light bulbs don’t contain any – which makes incandescent light bulbs better for the environment, right?)

Wrong. The main source of mercury emissions in the U.S. is from coal-fired power plants. They send mercury into the air as pollution. Since CFLs use significantly less energy than incandescents, they actually help decrease mercury emissions in the end. To produce the electricity required for an incandescent light bulb, a coal-fired power plant has to emit 13.6 milligrams of mercury. For a CFL, that emission drops to 3.3 milligrams.

It’s still very important to recycle CFLs for the sake of waste management workers. Those trace amounts have the potential to build up for workers who collect trash from hundreds of houses per day.

However, if you’re questioning the safety of installing a CFL in your home and wondering whether the mercury content is harmful for the environment, just think about a bite of tuna.


Emily Widle

Emily graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism. She enjoys scouring the news to report on the latest in the lighting industry as well as bringing valuable remodeling tips and exemplar home projects to light.

2 thoughts to “The Truth About CFLs and Mercury”

  1. As this blog post states, CFLs are a better solution, both economically and environmentally, than incandescent bulbs, which ultimately result in greater mercury exposure than CFLs, because they consume more power and require more power generation. Since mercury is a byproduct of burning coal, coal-fired power plants are a larger source of mercury pollution than the mercury content in the CFLs. Although CFLs do contain a small amount of mercury, with a proven packaging configuration and proper disposal, CFLs can be used effectively without releasing harmful mercury vapor.

    While a variety of containers are marketed for transportation of fluorescent lamps and CFLs, many don’t provide sufficient protection against mercury vapor emitted from broken lamps. Using a proven packaging design is vital to ensuring the safety of people who handle these lamps, as well as maintaining their green benefits. Read about a recent study that tested several packaging configurations here: If a bulb breaks, consumers can learn more about clean-up procedures here:

  2. CFL mercury is a much bigger problem,
    than any incandescent related coal power plant mercury release

    The coal plant argument keeps doing the rounds,
    but USA EPA administration themselves are not now pursuing that
    argument (whatever about old diagrams floating around), following the
    90% mercury emission reduction mandate under Lisa Jackson.

    It never was true anyway, for the extensive referenced reasons here:
    (Of course, to the user, a broken bulb in the home is a likely greater worry than a distant chimney emission release anyway, again with reference to EPA in their clean-up mandates, even if they err on the side of caution, on legal grounds if nothing else 🙂 )

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