The Taser's Edge

Screw that Bulb?, or Compact Fluorescent Fact Check

I don’t think I’ve ever asked for a fact-check or posted on something specifically environmental, but Robert S. Munday’s (Nashotah House dean and president) Sunday blog post caught my eye.  In it Munday writes of GE’s introduction of new and very expensive LED lightbulbs and of US federal lighting efficiency standards (i.e., the phasing out of incandescent bulbs by 2014).


No surprises in what Munday wrote except this:  “The only currently available alternatives are compact florescent light bulbs (which can’t even be manufactured in the United States because of their mercury content).”  Had you heard about the second half of that sentence?  That they aren’t/can’t be manufactured in the US?  And is it true?

Google wasn’t particularly helpful for recent and reliable news on this, but I did find a few interesting things:

1.) The AFL-CIO has launched a campaign (and website that GE is going green (a different shade than the green it’s always been interested in) only in order to gain the moral cover needed to move all its lighting jobs overseas.  Unsurprising, given that we all seem to be assuming that free market capitalism is going to drive “the green revolution.”

2.) From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in February 2010: St. Peters, MO, like many other communities across the nation, received a government stimulus grant for energy efficiency, and the town used part of the money to hand out free compact fluorescent bulbs.  Post-Dispatch readers wanted to know where the bulbs were made, to which St. Peters spokesperson Lisa Bedia replied that out of 24 bids made to the city, none offered bulbs made in the USA.

3.) Do a simple Google search for “compact fluorescent made in USA” and the first link will tell you about, which talks a lot about its products being the only CFLs truly made in America, but whose own website admits that its products are, at best, “assembled in USA.”

So, we can reach the conclusion that there are very few (if any) CFLs made here.  But I couldn’t find a conclusive source on why.  Is it just because they’re cheaper to make overseas (and it’s at least that) or is it because the process itself is hazardous enough (due to the mercury involved) to be illegal in the US but allowable in developing nations such as China and India? 

If it’s the latter, we may have a moral qualm on our hands.  Which is only a little better than having mercury on our hands.  The good news is that all fluorescent bulbs (the ones in your office and now in your home) contain mercury, making the scene from 40 Year Old Virgin in which characters smash fluorescent bulbs on each other (much mimicked on YouTube) much more interesting.