Opinion

COLUMN: Toxic waste disposal must be addressed

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A recent visit to Home Hardware surprised me with the number of good old incandescent light bulbs on their shelves. I thought the federal government required they be phased out by the end of last year, forcing us all to use the much more energy-efficient compact fluorescent lights (CFLs).

I didn’t think much about it as I stocked up.

Then I read that, due to consumer concerns, the ban on incandescents has been put over until Jan. 1 of next year when 75- and 100-watters will be off the market, followed by 40- and 60-watt bulbs by Dec. 31, 2014.

Obviously then, there’s still lots of time to pick up a few of the “old” bulbs before they are consigned to history.

A few years ago I wrote about installing CFLs in my house, and the financial gains achieved on my hydro bill. A lot of them still light parts of my house, though recently I noticed the CFL in one of my garage door openers worked only intermittently.

Upon removing the offending ‘pig-tail,’ I noted a tiny burn mark where it connects to the energy source. The very large ceramic base on the CFL is too big for the fixture, and thus even when screwed in as tightly as possible, it either barely touched the electrical connection, or in fact was powered only by an arc between the two points. A fire hazard in the making, I determined, and in went a regular incandescent bulb. Problem solved, the light works as it should and an apparent hazard avoided.

So, what to do with that now unnecessary CFL? They contain mercury so you can’t chuck ‘em in the trash. I knew Home Depot takes, and I assume recycles, all CFLs and fluorescent tubes, along with any and all batteries, so onto the work bench went the CFL until my next trip to the store.

A day or two later, pulling out a drawer on the tool box, the CFL went rolling across the bench and shattered in myriad shards. There went my best intention to recycle, and into the air went the offending mercury, hazardous trash no more.

This got me to thinking about the other mercury-laced lights, the long fluorescent tubes that light many fixtures in my garage, in the barn and even one in the kitchen.

Safely disposing of burned-out tubes isn’t difficult for individuals, thanks to places like Regional Recycling on Riverside Road or Home Depot, but what do commercial operations do?

There must be millions, perhaps tens of millions, of fluorescent tubes lighting retail, commercial and industrial buildings across this nation.

I hope, with all the dire warnings of mercury contamination and the extreme health hazard it poses, that they are also properly recycled, and will continue to be. Yet right now, Canada has no way of actually capturing that mercury, relying on facilities in the U.S. to recover it. And that, I understand, may soon come to an end as new importation bans south of the border will prevent us from exporting our toxic mercury waste.

Perhaps while it is requiring all of us to get our houses in order, lighting-wise, that the federal government gets it own in order relating to effective safe recycling of mercury. It is a recognized toxin, with severe health implications.

On the other hand, it wasn’t always regarded as such. I remember playing with little balls of mercury in high school science class. No warning (or understanding in those days) about its dangers, no order to wash our hands before eating lunch. And I won’t go into what we used to do with lead, either, or PCBs, but from what we know now, my generation should all be dead, or dealing with severe mental issues.

Then again . . . .

markrushton@abbynews.com

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