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Posts Tagged ‘Water Pollution’

Would George Will Rather Have Mercury in His Fish?

Fri ,21/08/2009

George Will, in his article “Perils of a Bright Idea” (4/2/09),  criticized the use of compact florescent light( CFL)  bulbs because they contain mercury. He has apparently not thought this through.  Would he rather have mercury in his light bulbs or in his fish?

 At a public forum, Stuart Jolly, a lobbyist for Americans for Prosperity said, “ if you break a CFL, mercury will spill out”.  Being curious, I went right home and broke one to see.  I could not find the mercury so I looked up the amount. It is about 4 milligrams per light bulb – an amount less than the size of the period at the end of this sentence.  

 Much of our electricity is produced by coal-fired power plants. Coal contains a trace amount of mercury- but considering that we burn 7 billion tons of coal each year –  50 tons of mercury is emitted into the air each year. The mercury is carried to the ground by rain and much of it ends up in our lakes and streams where it enters the food chain.  Some of it eventually ends up in game fish – even in areas that have no natural mercury sources. If you eat fish every Friday, by the year’s end, you’ll have eaten about four times as much mercury as there is in one CFL bulb.

 CFL’s are about four times as efficient as regular bulbs and last about 10 times as long. I cannot think of a company, school, or public building that does not use fluorescent light bulbs to save energy and avoid maintenance costs. CFL’s for home use are the same technology. Using CFL’s will actually cut the amount of mercury entering the environment by reducing the amount of coal burned.

 The mercury in fish should remind us that there are other concerns besides global warming in the debate on energy policy. We have large coal reserves but burning coal  releases sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, mercury, and radioactive isotopes of uranium and thorium that all end up in the air or the food chain. Whether you believe the Earth is getting warmer or not, you must agree that eating and breathing these are a bad idea.