The biggest drawback to these light bulbs is the small amount of mercury contained in them. As stated in this handy factsheet created by Energy Star, the average CFL contains 4 milligrams of mercury. I know you’re scratching your head trying to visualize 4 mg. Remember the old thermometers you had to stick under your tongue when the “hand to the forehead” wasn’t enough. That contained 500 mg (125 CFLs) of Mercury! That’s not saying the Mercury in CFL’s doesn’t matter, it just means that we have to be reasonable with objections.2: Many places now recycle CFLs for you! Use this handy recycle station finder from Earth 911 to find a place to recycle yo....
About 50 percent of the electricity produced in the U.S. is generated by coal-fired power plants. When coal burns to produce electricity, mercury naturally contained in the coal releases into the air. In 2006, coal-fired power plants produced 1,971 billion kilowatt hours (kwh) of electricity, emitting 50.7 tons of mercury into the air—the equivalent amount of mercury contained in more than 9 billion CFLs (the bulbs emit zero mercury when in use or being handled).
Approximately 0.0234 mg of mercury—plus carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide—releases into the air per 1 kwh of electricity that a coal-fired power plant generates. Over the 7500-hour average range of one CFL, then, a plant will emit 13.16 mg of mercury to sustain a 75-watt incandescent bulb but only 3.51 mg of mercury to sustain a 20-watt CFL (the lightning equivalent of a 75-watt traditional bulb). Even if the mercury contained in a CFL was directly released into the atmosphere, an incandescent would still contribute 4.65 more milligrams of mercury into the environment over its lifetime.
3: Coal burned to produce electricity to power incandescents emits more mercury than CFLs would!
Of course this mercury is spread out in our environment, and not right in your home, but on a national policy perspective, I would encourage everyone to use CFLs so our collective environment (and thus the land we live on and the food we eat) is less contaminated. Now, if I had a small child at home, I would still use CFLs, I would just be ever vigilant to ensure the CFLs didn't break in my home. If one did break, I would follow these steps to clean up a broken CFL properly.
I just wonder if all of these people concerned with mercury in CFLs refused to put a thermometer in their mouth when they were little? Remember, an old mercury thermometer had 125 times more mercury than a CFL!!! And you put it in your mouth!!! Where was all the outrage then?
Make your own choices, but make sure you have the facts and you put everything in perspective!
So to all the Energy Pros, what do you recommend when a friend or customer asks about CFLs and why?