Compact Fluorescent Headaches


  As prices come down, compact fluorescent light bulbs are making their energy saving way into most homes. Because of some concerns about their small mercury content, breakage, and the eventual disposal of these bulbs, not everyone is thrilled about their wide acceptance. Now another issue with some of the bulbs has started to be noted, headaches.

Recent studies have shown that the flickering present in some of the bulbs can cause headaches, migraines, or in rare cases, even seizures. The makers of the bulbs say that more recent models have improved to the point where it is very rare for people to have problems with them. I don’t notice anything with the ones we have installed in our house. Even the color of the light has become much more natural with recent models. We do have one yellow porch CFL that takes a few minutes to reach full intensity, but the rest are almost instantly on when the switch is thrown.

The small amount of mercury is something I have written about before and could be a concern with these bulbs. Breakage is a risk, although probably a small one. People have used fluorescent tubes in their kitchens for a long time, so are used to being careful. If one does break there are some specific recommended steps to take in cleaning up the pieces. That cleanup information and much more can be found in this PDF document from  I sue these bulbs in many of the lights in our home and recommend that you consider them also.

My biggest concern is the recycling of the bulbs. Most fluorescent bulbs, tubes or CFL’s, end up in the landfill. There is no quick and easy way for most people to recycle them, so they go into the household trash. I am not optimistic that this will change. The only solution is the development of fluorescent bulbs without mercury, or a rush to make LED lights much more affordable than they currently are.  Until that happens, CFL’s will be the light bulb of choice for most people.  If recycling options for these bulbs are not improved, as the years go by and they start to burn out, most will end up in the landfill.

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Will Sig
1 Jennifer Robin

You make a good point. I have to wonder what the fallout from the common use of these bulbs is going to be a few years from now when the impact of them hitting the landfills becomes cumulative. I see a lot of them now for sale that are addressing the mercury issue, but that doesn’t do anything for the gazillions of them out there that are going to just get dumped in the trash instead of being taken to hazardous waste recycling centers. We have such a center here, but how do you encourage people to use it when they have to drive 35 miles to get there?

Jennifer Robins last blog post..Sky Watch Friday: One Little Cloud


2 Bob

Excellent post Will, being the super for a large mall the first thing I thought of with the CFL’s was their disposal, since everybody I know is changing to them the landfills will eventually be full of them, and that won’t be good.


3 Will

Jennifer this is one of the two biggest recycling problems. If it is not convenient, most people understandably will not do it. The other big problem is the economics of recycling, or lack there of.

You know Bob, wouldn’t a mall be big enough with enough CFL’s in use to have a central collection place and twice a year take them to the disposal site?


4 Anonymous

Different lighting can be a big factor in causing headaches as well as many other things. These compact fluorescent bulbs flicker constantly even if you don’t notice it consciously. It seems like that could give you quite a headache, in fact, some of mine flicker noticeable and I can’t stay in the room for more than 5 minutes or I have to shut them off because they do give me a headache!


5 Michael MacKenzie

In Canada Rona has a drop of station in their stores. I wish more places would do something like that. Also they should have places to drop off batteries.


6 Dennis

Wow that’s some serious point you have there about the recycling of this bulbs, If you are looking to save on energy to help the planet but at the same time you are creating no recyclable garbage with dangerous substances like mercury, I guess there’s no point to use them.


7 migraine headaches

I have to wonder what the fallout from the common use of these bulbs is going to be a few years from now when the impact of them hitting the landfills becomes cumulative


8 Joe Black

This is not the only issue or challenge wit CFL and also LED lighting. It is the amount of lights we now have in the home and public spaces that requires some adjustment. This is disrupting the natural flow of nature. Our animals and plants are in some instances living in constant light. The effectiveness of the LED and CFl is defeated with the sheer volume now used in order to remain in light day and night.


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