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Delicious Living

The truth about CFLs

I'm a big fan of turning off the lights when I leave the room, putting outdoor lights on sensors, replacing standard incandescents with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) ….

Naysayers have always contended that CFLs' output is substandard or inadequate (we'll get to that in a bit). But if you've tuned in to the radio and internet buzz lately, you know that CFLs are under a different kind of attack by those who argue that the tiny amount of mercury—a neurotoxin that causes liver, brain, and nervous-system damage—found in fluorescent tubes might negate the benefit of using a light source that requires 2/3 less energy.

In fact, the EPA says that CFLs' mercury content (about 2.4 mg) is way less than the 10 mg a coal-burning power plant pumps into the atmosphere to power up an incandescent.

However, new research has shown that the mercury gas emitted by landfills containing broken CFLs might enter the food chain more rapidly than that released from coal-powered plants. Yikes. What's more, each state has differing laws about how to dispose of fluorescent lighting, making recycling difficult and, in some states, just plain nonexistent. Find out about your state's regulations at

Currently, IKEA is the only retailer who will recycle burned-out CFLs. However, you can also bring used CFLs to hazardous-waste disposal sites. For a list of locations near you, click here.

But because a CFL has to break to leach mercury, the bottom line here, folks, is that it's up to us to dispose of our CFLs responsibly, which means RECYCLE, RECYCLE, RECYCLE!

Now, for the pesky argument that CFLs' light isn't quite as soft, warm, natural as your old 60-watt. Check out GE's newest line of mold-breaking CFLs. These are smaller, more decorative, dimmable, and longer lasting, and they have soft, incandescentlike color. Finally I can feel good about the track lighting in my living room.

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