Compact fluorescent light bulbs solve one problem, but present another: Although the bulbs are longer-lasting and more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs, CFLs contain mercury, a neurotoxin. If a bulb breaks or isn't recycled properly, the mercury can be released into the environment.
But researchers at Brown University are working to solve that problem with the creation of a new selenium-based material that can absorb mercury spills. The team tested several different materials for absorbing mercury, including selenium, zinc and carbon. Selenium seemed promising, but the team hypothesized that a protein stabilizer in its nano-structure might be blocking mercury absorption. The protein stabilizer was removed, which created an un-stabilized nano-selenium. According to the research, in a confined space, 10 mg of nano-selenium can absorb 99 percent of mercury vapor contained in a CFL within 24 hours.
Although the research may provide a solution for cleaning up large mercury spills, it may also provide a simple solution to keeping mercury from fluorescent bulbs out of the environment. About 700 million light bulbs containing mercury are discarded every year, with only 24 percent being recycled, according to the Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers. Although people are encouraged to keep CFLs out of the waste stream, few states have a curbside recycling service for the bulbs, so disposal requires taking the bulbs to a designated recycling site.
However, if recycle boxes or disposal bags lined with nano-selenium can be produced, then people can simply put a broken or burned out bulb into the box or bag, and be done with it. Wouldn't that be great?
Neat! A magic bag that teleports CFL bulbs to the recycling facility. Okay, seriously, the bag is a neat idea, but it falls short of being the solution to the weak infrasturcture to get a bulb from the house to the recycling facility, although I could see these Hg-absorbing bags as a useful tool to use within such an infrastructure.
The simple use of CFLs already reduces the amount of mercury released into the environment, as compared to the mercury released from burning coal to power incandescent bulbs. CFLs are definitely the lesser of two evils. Check out this link to see a graph of the comparison:
Years ago, I worked for a small sign company and thru away thousands of bulbs in the garbage before thew impact was known.
What about all the stores, workplaces, signs etc.,that use fluorescent light bulbs?
What happend to them and how are they disposed of now?
I feel a little shaakyy.
This is good to hear. I've been thinking a lot about CFL bulbs and their mercury content since my parents in Georgia recently experienced a massive power surge (throughout their entire neighborhood) that resulted in every light bulb exploding. The absolute first thing that came to my mind was mercury contamination from CFL bulbs. If many of those bulbs were CFLs, that's a significant amount of mercury exposure and contamination. It's good to hear that this new selenium-based material can absorb such a high percent of mercury spills.
Dr.Kamlander The few mg of Mercury can easely react with a tablespoon of finely powdered sulfur. Mercury sulfide is insoluble.
This is a huge innovation! As the only flaw of these bulbs was problematic recyclance..
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