back to article MEP tries to ban lightbulbs with mercury amendment

As Bismark pointed out, laws and sausages have things in common - both are highly useful, but you don't want to see either of them made. An example of the turning of lips, ears and arses into comestibles came this week in the European Parliament. One idea quite seriously put forward was to close down the entire European …


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  1. TeeCee Gold badge
    Paris Hilton

    Let there be darkness.

    Actually, I don't see any exemption in that proposed amendment for mercury compounds that are already contained within a lightbulb..........

    Paris, because she does all her best work with the lights off.

  2. David Shepherd

    Science lessons just aint what they used to be

    > Metallic mercury isn't all that nice a thing to have lying around

    When I were a lad I remember our science teacher doing a lesson on metals showing a selection of metals including mercury where he demonstrated its liquid status by pouring it out onto the lab bench then pushing all the resulting droplets back into the container using a piece of paper ... doubt they do that nowadays! (suspect they're not even allowed to lob lumps of sodium in water to see what happens ... even if wearing safety glasses)

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    Its poison you know

    That mercury is very nasty stuff and, if at all possible, should be banned. I am just recovering from mercury poisoning - once it gets into your system it stays there until you actively get rid of it which takes ages. I have heard all of the medical head scratching (there's no proof etc) but how come I was very sick until I had the mercury removed. Just think the EU are forcing poison into your homes... the faragan bastages

  4. richard

    there's light at the end of the tunnel..

    and what does the ex-lead singer of queen have to do with this anyway?'s the sausages.....

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Internal production?

    Given that we apparently have shed loads of otherwise useless mercury in the EU. Wouldn't you expect the US company you work with, or the Japanese company to set up a plant in the EU manufacturing the magic potions?

    Might help us find a use for the mercury we otherwise have to process in some way?

  6. caffeine addict

    3rd Option

    The 3rd option is that it was deliberately made stupidly restrictive by someone who doesn't want the ban to come into force...

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Sorry about your problem

    But we used to play with mercury all the time and melt lead for soldiers, too. No ill effects; so it obviously doesn't affect all of us the same way. Banning stuff is almost always ignorant. I'm frankly surprised that the Spanish would take the stuff back and store it, even though the mines have been around a long, long time. Some in the states think that nuclear waste should be strored where the government did all those a-bomb tests years ago (and polluted the ground for the next million years), but the NIMBYs are up in arms as if somehow it's going in their pool or something.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    @ Science lessons just aint what they used to be

    > suspect they're not even allowed to lob lumps of sodium in water to see what happens

    One of the funniest things I have seen was somebody throwing a load of old sodium lamp bulbs into a skip which must have had a good inch or two of water lying in the bottom of it.....

  9. michael

    re:Science lessons just aint what they used to be

    "(suspect they're not even allowed to lob lumps of sodium in water to see what happens ... even if wearing safety glasses)"

    yer and that is what is killing the scince caulture in britan 2 day

  10. Anonymous Coward

    In a bad light

    While we are waiting for the LED lamps to mature (which is going rather fast), the only viable technology is incandescent. Halogen incandescents are quite efficient, and all the fluorescents are little environmental bombs getting ready to hit us.

    I guess we could have an exception for the high-pressure, high-power lamps since they could be incorporated in a responsible recycling program for hazardous waste. I do not trust the average consumer to carefully deposit their used fluorescents in a hazardous waste container, taking care that they do not break.

  11. Bernard Mergendeiler

    The problem is solved in this article

    The alleged problem is with mercury in fluorescent lights. However, FLOURescence comes from pure, unbleached, genetically unmodified, whole-grain, organic, decaffinated wheat.

    Mine's the one with the "Flour Power" sticker on the back.

  12. Simon Ball

    Sad, but probably true.

    Pity. I recall an even more amusing experiment that our chemistry teacher performed as a post-exam treat, involving caesium and water. Although that had to be done in the fume/blast container. Watching large containers of water explode is always fun.

    I always had a hankering to watch what happens when francium and water are mixed. Though obviously, from a distance.

  13. Ash
    Thumb Down

    Release the patent...

    ... on the everlasting lightbulb. Solves your waste mercury problem in one go; no more thrown out lightbulbs.

    Oh wait, that means we'd be paying for something ONCE which we didn't need to replace every 2 years, keeping the cash flowing and the tax money rolling in. Not gonna happen, eh?

  14. Tim Worstal


    Well, maybe, it's just that top usage for a bulb is, if I recall correctly, 100 mg. So, 1,000x1,000x10, ie 10 million can be made from one tonne. And mercury is pretty cheap stuff, a few thousand $ a tonne maybe?

    I think the cost of the new factory would be rather thigher than the savings from using the mercury?

    Tee CEe...the exemption is that less than 5% of the weight of the bulb is Hg. And that defeated amendment was the only one to do with imports anyway.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So who ...

    ... proposed the amendment? Inquiring minds want to know!

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    mercury content

    halogens offer 15 lumens per watt, fluorescents 55

    they are a part of the solution. sure, people must recycle them, but we are all getting better at this all the time.

    the manufacturers have signed up to reducing the mercury load to 5mg per bulb, and 2.5mg later. these are tiny amounts.

    from what i saw of the directive, it was things >5% mercury by weight, so not CFLs then. the RoHS already prohibit mercury switches and the like.

  17. Slaine

    Science Lessons

    yes yes yes... I remember the fun we used to have too... Now it's all "watch this video", read this sheet, remember that formula. No wonder everyone wants to be doing something else.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    Internalising the problem

    Is it not funny how people forget that 99% of the time, forcing the people responsible for a problem to fix it is the best way to go?

    In this case, if you want costumers to return bulbs, just put a deposit in place.

    This gives the costumers the insentive to return it. 10$ deposit on a 4$ bulb might sound daf, but if you are in any way intelligent, you only pay it once because you always return it. It worked wonderfully here for plastic 20L bottles (think water cooler)

    This keeps the mercury nicely locked inside the bulb, along with ALL the other rare/costly elements. The factory should be more then happy to get that back, be able to recycle them back into the process and significantly reduce the environmental impact.

    The same could be said of electronics and cell phones, even if there, I think just forcing the telcos to sale them at the REAL price and letting users switch without getting a new phone would help a lot more.

    Mine's the one with the "I hate stupid people" logo on the back.

  19. Mark

    So is it better then

    To just curse the darkness?

  20. /\/\j17

    Simple Solution...?

    "Metallic mercury isn't all that nice a thing to have lying around..."

    Why don't we just switch to non-metallic Mercury then...?

  21. Miami Mike
    Paris Hilton

    Alles ist verboten!!!!!

    Well first they banned incandescent light bulbs because they are inefficient.

    Then they banned the little squiggly light bulbs because they have trace amounts of mercury in them.

    Next they are going to ban sunlight because it causes sunburn and skin cancer.

    You can bet they'll ban candles because of the obvious fire and pollution hazards.

    I guess the only solutions are to learn to see in the dark and become a vampire so being in the dark all the time doesn't bother you. Which, by logical extension, means most governments are already vampires, they are always in the dark, and they suck your blood.

    Paris, because she's clueless and allegedly does her best work in the dark, although probably not sucking on blood (anyway).

  22. RichyS
    Paris Hilton

    @Simon Ball

    Sadly, if I remember correctly, the half-life of francium is so short that it can't be made in quantities sufficently large to be dropped in water. It's fun speculating though.

    Paris, because she likes to experiment...

  23. Steve Evans

    @David Shepherd

    The liquid metal isn't that much of a problem, it's the vapours it gives off, very nasty.

    As for the sodium, I remember one lad at school who would always drop some down the sink to watch it go. One lesson the teacher said "Today we're going to be using sodium, I don't want any of it going down the sink, Fred Bloggs do you hear me?!" (name changed of course).

    About 2 minutes into the experiment that was a huge boom from the back of the room, we all turned to see Fred standing there, white faced. Sure enough he'd chucked some sodium down the sink, but hadn't thought to rinse the sink out first... Whoever had used it last had just tipped acid down it, and not rinsed it either!

    He didn't do that again!

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cost of new factory vs savings using the mercury?

    It wasn't really the savings using the mercury and maybe it wouldn't use all of it. But if there is a use then it's better to use it than to chuck it.

    I was pointing out that if you ban importing light bulb potion then you could make the potion inside the EU. That is, light bulbs would still be available.

    It maybe more expensive, but given that it's currently imported from either the US or Japan at the moment, they aren't exactly low cost economies either so the price should be similar produced here. Here we'd have control over the pollution and the mercury is free or maybe even less than free since they have to pay for disposal.

    A newer factory may be more efficient as well.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Non-metallic mercury

    Mercury in its compund forms is often more toxic than in its pure metallic form. Expecially the oxides...

  26. James Pickett

    I've often wondered..

    ..why dentists are still allowed to put mercury in your teeth?

    I must have spat a fair quantity down the drain when having fillings renewed (before I started insisting on composite ones).

  27. Anonymous Coward

    EC banned incandescent bulbs?

    I guess I won't be living there then (not that they want me, anyway).

    I have a condition where, because of cataract residue in my eyes, fluorescent lights create a wonderful prism affect to my vision. Pretty to look at - hard to see with.

    I found this out the hard way when I went to replace all my bulbs (because, hey, I care) and suddenly realized I couldn't read anything in my own house.

    Oh well.

  28. Tim Worstal

    Well, no.....

    "It maybe more expensive, but given that it's currently imported from either the US or Japan at the moment, they aren't exactly low cost economies either so the price should be similar produced here."

    Because you've got the capital cost of the factory as well....

  29. easyk

    Incandecents are 100% efficent...

    ... in environments that are heated. The waste product of an incandecant is heat. Heat that would otherwise have to be added to the environment from other energy sources. Watts per Lumen only become important in air conditioned or outdoor environments. For outdoor there are already very good LED solutions.

    Additionaly compact flourecents have circuits that are prone to failure. After 2 CF bulbs failed I opened and examined the circuit board. In both cases the manufacurer used a capacitor that could not handle the normal voltage spikes that appear on a 120AC line. I replaced the caps and the bulbs work but how many other people would have just thrown them out?

    Regular flourecents require additional circuit elements (ballast) that need to be replaced periodicaly ( thats the extent of my knowledge on that).

    Point is that banning incandecents is stupid because there are definite situations where the are absolutely the right choice.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    >Well, no.....

    You don't have the running cost of transporting a toxic substance thousands of miles either.

    I did say it may be more expensive.

    Of course the EU could offset the capital cost by grants. Since the EU would then recover the money in taxation over time and the benefit of pollution control has a value to it.

  31. RW
    Jobs Halo

    My stash

    Given signs of an impending ban on incandescents, I promptly laid in a large stash of the 100 watt incandescent bulbs I prefer, probably a more-than-lifetime supply given my age. I won't use compact fluorescents: being by education a chemist, I know better than to introduce mercury into living space, esp. in the form of a gadget that regularly gets broken.

    [I should add that notwithstanding my concerns, I tried out compact fluorescents once. I found the light quality was unusably bad, far worse than any normal fluorescent tube. So much for Chinese attention to quality, once again. I returned the bulbs to Home Depot as unusable for my purposes.]

    Mercury really is a very dangerous material, and as another reply pointed out, its compounds are often much more poisonous than the elemental form. Some years ago a chemist at, iirc, Dartmouth College got a single small drop of methyl mercury on her skin and ended up dying a slow and horrible death in consequence.

    Dental fillings: the silver-mercury amalgam dentists use is essentially an intermetallic compound of great stability, though I believe crematoria have issues with mercury in their flue gases.

    I'm waiting for the local earth mother brigade to discover the bandwagon they hopped on has a downside: huge decontamination costs if you break a compact fluorescent bulb in a carpeted area.

    Why is there no "bright idea" icon in the form of a light bulb? A haloed Ballmer will have to do.

  32. Anonymous John

    Poem 2008 version

    When they came for the indandescents

    I remained silent;

    I was already using CFLs..

    When they came for the CFLs

    I remained silent;

    I was already using LED lighting

  33. Lukin Brewer

    Mercury amalgam fillings

    ...were endorsed by the British Dental Association many years ago, as a workable and cheap alternative to gold ones. As the BDA became the premier dental organisation in the country, so mercury amalgam became the de facto standard. BDA rules forbid dentists from questioning the health values of mercury amalgam, or advising against them on anything other than aesthetic grounds.

    Mercury amalgam is pretty stable, and while fillings do leak mercury, they do so in sub-lethal amounts. However, IMHO, the sooner amalgam fillings are consigned to the crematorium of history, the better.

    @RW: yarc

    You almost recalled correctly. Professor Karen Wetterhahn dropped the dimethylmercury on her latex glove. Follow-up research showed that it would have penetrated the latex within 15 seconds. It took five months for obvious symptoms to appear, by which time her nervous system was irreversibly damaged. She died three weeks after that.

  34. James Pickett
    Thumb Down


    "while fillings do leak mercury, they do so in sub-lethal amounts"

    So rotting your brain is OK, then? IIRC, there was a short period around 1850 when mercury fillings were outlawed, but as usual, the medical profession put profit before patient welfare and got it repealed.

    That the "BDA rules forbid dentists from questioning the health values of mercury amalgam, or advising against them on anything other than aesthetic grounds" tells you all you need to know, IMHO...

  35. Richard Cartledge

    Why are babies given mercury?

    Why do we still have mercury amalgam fillings?

    Why do we have to inject babies with mercury via the M.M.R. jab?

    They are already making 1 in 34 kids have autism by injecting it straight into their bloodstrem, and then complain about 5mg in a lightbulb!

    It's all bullshit.

  36. Codge

    @ Richard Cartledge. Babies given mercury.

    1 in 34 kids have autism?

    Babies injected with mercury?

    I'd be interested to see some evidence of that.

    The bullshit covered vet's gown with the shoulder length rubber gloves in the pocket!

  37. Anonymous Coward

    American Company

    GE Lighting perchance? Part of the GE group...

    Mines the silvery liquid one leaking between the floorboards.

  38. Anonymous Coward

    And of couse, LED's

    Depending on whether its Red, Yellow, Green, or Blue, have Gallium, Arsenic, Phosphorus, Indium & Aluminum (& nitrogen and a few other things).

    Arsenic is of course toxic in most forms.

    Many phosphorous compounds are extremely toxic. Fluorophosphate esters are among the most potent neurotoxins known.

    Indium trichloride anhydrous (InCl3) is quite toxic.

    Basically, if something is useful, it can probably kill you under the right circumstances.

  39. Kanhef

    @Richard Cartledge

    The 'link' between thimerosol and autism has been thoroughly debunked. They stopped using it in vaccines years ago anyway.

    For decades, office buildings and such have almost exclusively used fluorescent lighting, the vast majority of which is thrown out rather than recycled. A 5' bulb thrown into a dumpster is much more likely to break than a CF bulb dropped in a wastebasket. Funny that no one ever complained about that.


    No. Read the laws of thermodynamics again. *Nothing* can be 100% efficient; you will *always* produce more heat. The filament has to be at a few thousand degrees anyway, so whether the ambient temperature is -50 or 200 degrees makes absolutely no difference whatsoever.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Richard Cartledge

    um there is no Mercury in Vaccines, has been in over 20 years. Oh that number is more like 1in 150. I love how the anti vaccine people make up BS to scare people.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Banning imports of mercury based products, where's the problem?

    I fail to see the problem with banning products that contain toxic substances. The more troublesome it is to find a replacement compound or replacement product, the more incentive there is for the industry to innovate and come up with a replacement.

    I also fail to see how there is any damage in some single company making outrageous profits by overcharging horrendously due to an indecent advantage they may have because yet again this will only serve as an incentive for competitors to come up with a replacement product at a lower cost.

    People are always so short term sighted it makes me embarrassed to be a member of the human race.

  42. Clive Harris

    Science lessons? Mercury? Pah! We were using plutonium!

    Back in the good old days - the 60's and early '70s, school science lessons were fun and really, really dangerous. Mercury by the bucketful, conc.sulphuric acid, cyanide, nitrogen tri-iodide, etc, etc

    I remember when we were trying to build a cloud chamber as part of a physics lesson. Having got it built, we needed a good source of alpha particles to test it with. So the physics teacher went to the safe in his office and brought out a heavy lead-lined box, labelled "Pu239". As he handed the isotope sources to us (little metallic pellets on the end of a short stick), he pleaded with us "Please be careful boys, these are very dangerous!". His warnings were somewhat blunted later when he shoved half a dozen of these pellets in his trouser pocket. (I often wondered what his children looked like)

    We spent most of the lesson pointing the things at each other. I amused myself trying to get my one to light up my luminous watch (unsuccessfully). I don't think we ever got the cloud chamber working, but so far as I know, most of us are still alive.

    A few years later, when I visited the school, I asked the lab technician what had happened to the radio-isotope sources. "Oh yes", he said, "someone from the government turned up one day and confiscated them all".

  43. Dave Bell


    No, you're completely missing easyk's point. If you need heat, the heat produced by an incandescent bulb isn't waste.

    It still might not be useful when a lightbulb is up near the ceiling, but incandescent bulbs have been used as low-power heater elements pretty well since they have been invented. Go check on small-scale chicken rearing for one example. It was off the shelf tech, and easy DIY, back in the days when all this electrickery wasn't regulated out of reach of the unqualified.

    Oh, and don't put a hot soldering iron into your coat pocket.

  44. Paul Showering Silver badge

    LED hazards

    Yes, LED lighting can in theory produce far more lumens per watt than any other lighting technology, but they aren't without risk. The problem is the very uneven light spectrum they produce, with a very sharp spike in the blue region (because basically white LEDs are blue LEDs with an orange phosphor). Because the pupil of the eye responds to the average light level, the retina is exposed to far more blue light than if the light source produced a more even spectrum, for example, an incandescent bulb. This is called "blue light hazard", and may exacerbate sight-threatening conditions like age-related macular degeneration. LED manufacturers are responding by moving to "warm white" which has a slightly more even spectrum, but the basic problem of the large blue spike remains.

  45. David Simpson

    darn me

    Does this mean wrapping the fluorescents in a black bin liner and then smashing them so I can put them in the bin (the binmen won't take fluorescent tubes) is naughty?

    Mine's the one with broken glass in the pockets

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mercury in fillings...

    I think a few to many people have been reading to many Tabloid papers.

    Mercury in Fillings actualy has little if any effect on you. The reason amalgum is still used is because it is acctualy much better than polimers at doing the job it dose.

    Also, I have three fillings, all Amalgum, all done by my Father. He used Amalgum because it is much better for fillings and he only every uses white fillings where it will show. As for the BDA rules forbiding dentists from questioning the health values of mercury amalgam, that is utter rubbish.

    They will take a very dime vew of any Dentist making such claimes, because they can charge more for white fillings and there is no evidence to back up any medical claims so it would be very uprofesional to claim there is.

  47. GrahamT

    Mad as a hatter

    Clever sub headline;

    Hatters, apocryphally, went mad because of all the mercury used for making the felt used in their trade.

  48. David

    @ Clive

    Some schools were a bit slower at tidying up their radioactive stockpile:

  49. archie lukas

    Killing science or culture?

    Q: "yer and that is what is killing the scince caulture in britan 2 day"

    A: Lack of elementary education, especially spelling and basic English sentence construct? Just a thought.

  50. Doug Lynn

    recycling of mercury filled bulbs

    Hi, we have been throwing out mercury bulbs for years, now they say its hazardous, which I agree. I read an article that mercury recycling will need to be added to a city's recycling program to prevent all new mercury filled bulbs from going to the dump and poisoning our ground water.

  51. Anonymous Coward

    pop goes...

    Yes, ban lightbulbs because they're sooo dangerous.

    Meanwhile the UK is planning to building hundreds of Nuclear Power stations.

    At least if my lightbulb blows, it won't destroy half the country.

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