The darker side of power-efficient CFL's bright story

While the government is aggressively marketing Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) at subsidised rates across the state in a bid to promote use of these power-efficient bulbs and save some electricity, it seems to have spared little thought for safe disposal of mercury-laden lamps.

Early this year, the government launched Bhachat Lamp Yojana under which it has been marketing CFLs at subsidised rates, but it is yet to make a proper policy for safe disposal of CFLs.

The Bangalore Electricity Supply Company (BESCOM) has distributed CFLs to more than 1 lakh households in Kolar and Bangalore rural areas so far.

According to experts, if the mercury-laden lamps are not disposed off safely and continue to be dumped in the landfills, they may cause several health hazards such as neurological disorders and cancer.

Though use of CFL is in its initial stage in India and the issue of unsafe disposal is yet to take alarming proportions, experts say, prevention is better than cure. They fear in the absence of a proper disposal system and necessary awareness, dumping of used CFLs in the landfills will gradually become a common practice.
And people will end up unknowingly poisoning the ground water and exposing themselves to several health hazards. As per the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB), IT companies and private institutions are the highest users of CFLs in the city.
"The big corporate houses in Bangalore use CFLs, however, 90 per cent of the CFL waste is directly being dumped onto the landfills," said A S Sadashivaiah, KSPCB chairman. The pollution panel, however, claims that it is currently working with the city entrepreneurs, BESCOM and BBMP to set up a separate CFL waste collection unit.

A single CFL bulb contains around 4 to 5 mg of mercury, which is highly toxic and can cause serious health hazards. "We have to first learn how to handle the CFL as a waste. It contains mercury and if it is disposed off in landfills, the groundwater will get contaminated and cause serious neurological and reproductive damage.
It can even cause cancer," said Dr Thuppil Venkatesh, Principal Investigator, National Referral Centre for Lead Poisoning in India (NRCLPI). He added, "Since CFLs are energy efficient, they are bound to become popular into the rural areas as well. However, in the absence of a safe disposal method, rural areas may turn into polluted lands."

NGOs working on environmental issues have questioned the entire waste management policy of the government. "Currently, all the waste is mixed together at the landfill and once the rain comes, it seeps into the ground or makes it way into the water bodies," said environmentalist Suresh Heblikar of Eco-Watch.

He also added that the government needs to introduce policy to check the mercury contents in the CFL bulbs, as in many cases, they are way above the permissible limits.

Layman's guide for CFL disposal
If there is no place to recycle your CFL bulb, seal it in a plastic bag and put it in the trash. 
Don't burn a CFL bulb, or for that matter anything that contains mercury

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