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From: (Don Wilkins)
Newsgroups: rec.crafts.metalworking
Subject: Re: fluorescent bulbs death..?
Date: Sun, 16 Jan 2000 14:57:41 GMT

On Wed, 12 Jan 2000 18:36:26 -0800, "Mark" <>

>,;The EPA changed the rules some years back on fluorescent bulbs... apparently
>,;concerned about the pinhead worth of mercury in them.  I believe they (the
>,;guv'mint) designed one with much less mercury that last only 20% as long....
>,;this makes sense as long as you work for the EPA.  I was in the sign
>,;business; (LOTS of bulbs) and for a while they wanted to make dead
>,;fluorescent bulbs a hazardous material, with all that implies.  I'm glad
>,;they didn't, it would have bankrupted us, or our customers.

But they are treated as a hazardous waste in many of the states and
there are regulations concerning shipping dead lamps which prevent all
of the dead ones accumulating in states which do not regulate their
disposal. There are quite a few companies that make a living recycling
fluorescent lamps and believe me when I tell you that nobody is
recycling these lamps voluntarily. It is a PITA for everyone except
the recycler.

I have been a consultant for one of these companies whose major
business is recovering mercury from fluorescent lamps. Prior to
retirement I worked for a company which I believe is still the largest
manufacturer of fluorescent lamps.

A pinhead worth of mercury is fairly accurate. The loading in lamps
has dropped from close to 50 milligrams per lamp to about 25.  The
"pinhead" is an insignificant amount until you multiply it by the
number of lamps per year. ASFAIK the US government has done absolutely
nothing in the lamp development area. Zilch.

The reduction in mercury content has been done by the lamp
manufacturers for two reasons 1) lower the cost and 2) avoid
government regulations concerning disposal of dead lamps. The lamp
recylers of course want the lamps declared a hazardous waste. The
manufacturers want no regulations concerning disposal. The latter
would mean the lamps go to a landfill and recyclers fold up their
tents and go belly up.

It has been interesting sitting at a conference with regulators, my
former employer, other manufacturers, and the recyclers arguing just
how and what regulations should be in place.

The manufacturers are concerned about the added cost if the lamps are
recycled. Higher cost per lamp and regulations might change the method
of changing out lamps. Currently most high volume users change out the
entire building(s) on a time schedule before the lamps start burning
out. It is cheaper to do an entire building change out than it is to
send an electrician (and probably a helper) to change individual lamps
as they burn out.

Recently I replaced all of the ballasts in a building I rent to my
wife for her craft business. I put in the new electronic ballasts and
replaced the old type tubes. The cost was not trivial but her electric
bill is about half of what it used to be and she is no longer nagging
me to replace burned out lamps on a disgustingly regular basis. These
ballasts cost $17 each (almost wholesale). I believe we have just
about recovered the cost in savings on lamps and electricity.

Lamp failure is usually caused by mercury starvation. An infinitesimal
amount of mercury is in the vapor state during operation. The rest of
that "pinhead" of mercury remains in the liquid state and replaces the
vapor state which is used up by blackening the ends of the tubes.

Old ballasts in addition to burning out and dripping asphalt on
oriental rugs, starting fires, etc. also cause early burnout of lamps.

From: (Don Wilkins)
Newsgroups: rec.crafts.metalworking
Subject: Re: fluorescent bulbs death..?
Date: Mon, 17 Jan 2000 13:40:35 GMT

On Sun, 16 Jan 2000 07:45:24 -0800, Fitch R. Williams
<> wrote:

>,; (Don Wilkins) wrote:
>,;>The reduction in mercury content has been done by the lamp
>,;>manufacturers for two reasons 1) lower the cost and 2) avoid
>,;>government regulations concerning disposal of dead lamps.
>,;The government only had to look like it might do something and motivated
>,;the part of the private sector which makes a profit off the lamps to do
>,;what they should do.  That works just fine.  I think its better that way
>,;than if they spend my tax money on developing new bulbs.

That is a good theory and I agree that it would be nice if the
government operated in that fashion but it didn't happen that way. The
manufacturers were trying to reduce or even better eliminate mercury
in fluorescent lamps long before there was any government interest in
what happens to the mercury in the lamps.

I, as a retired industrial research scientist, have far less faith
than you apparently have in the ability of big government to make
significant contributions to industrial research by just looking at
the problem.

Take for example the "looking" that went into oxygenated fuels. This
has led to forced use of ethanol in gasoline in many areas when most
scientists agree that it is a net loser no matter how you "look" at
it. The primary beneficiary is one large ethanol producer in the
midwest which has made huge political donations. The losers are the
environment and the people forced to use it.

And of course an alternative to ethanol (methyltertiarybutyl ether) is
apparently introducing Californians to the taste of MTBE in their
drinking water.

Now by mentioning that example and my lack of faith in big government
I hasten to agree that environmental regulations are necessary. When I
began a career just about everything that you created as waste went
down the sink, up the hood, or out to a landfill. They put galvanized
drains in my first lab and I had those pipes dissolved in less than a
month. They were replaced with plastic pipe and someone in an adjacent
lab dumped a chlorinated solvent. My drain pipes were gone again.

I could pour a colored solution in the sink and run over to the river
bank and watch it come out the pipe and run down the bank. One day the
safety engineer (of all people) pulled into the parking lot and
pitched a bunch of KOH canisters out in the river after he carefully
punctured them so the KOH would dissolve. At least he was neutralizing
some of the acid the rest of the facility was dumping.

You knew what kind of carpets the company up river was making from the
color of the effluent from the plant. The leather product manufacturer
upstream made interesting contributions to the color and the smell of
the river.

This was standard procedure particularly on the east coast where the
rivers were used as sewer pipes. Many of the cities didn't have sewage
treatment facilities. When I first moved there I couldn't understand
why there were no houses along the rivers. That was desirable property
where I came from. I soon found out why. If you put your hand a foot
under the water you couldn't see your fingers and much of that was
caused by suspended particles of guess what?.

Much has changed since those days and much was absolutely necessary.
Today when you order a chemical it costs more to dispose of what you
don't use than the original cost of the chemical. That makes one stop
and think when ordering as the large economy size ain't necessarily

On the other hand I have seen far too much pork influence what should
be common sense environmental decisions. The mercury issue in
fluorescent lamps has not been concluded. There is a lot of big money
addressing the issue. I am not convinced that the public is going to
win this one either.

I was deeply involved in the mercury scare in 1974 as well as the PCB
fiasco in 1976. I have seen some disastrous effects of careless use of
chemicals first hand and agree that the need to protect innocent
workers and the public is essential. I just have a problem with the
influence that contributions to politicians contribute to those

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