Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Danger of poisonous substances (the Express, not mercury)

As if to prove the point made about the Express yesterday, the Science Media Centre has complained about a health scare front page story from 14 March: Dangers of low energy lightbulbs.

One of the main complaints is that it claimed there is mercury powder in low energy lightbulbs (CFLs) - indeed, it said so in the sub-head ('They contain poisonous mercury powder'). Not so - CFLs contain mercury as vapour.

What do the Express say? Surprise, surprise, they stand by their story. Never mind the clear factual error in 18pt font on the front page.

The story goes on to outline Government warnings on dealing with broken CFLs - news which is all very interesting, but also 14 months old.

The DEFRA guidelines state: Energy efficient light bulbs are not a danger to the public...the very small amount [of mercury] contained in an energy efficient bulb is unlikely to cause harm even if the lamp should be broken.

And as this article states, this use of mercury has been used in flourescent strip lighting (in kitchens, for example) for years without any of the apparent fuss the CFLs have attracted. But like the groundless 'phone masts cause cancer' stories, expect this one to run and run.


  1. First time poster, long time reader and all that.

    The Daily Express article and the message boards also touch on the UV radiation scare. It is true that they produce UV inside the bulb but the radiation is filtered out by the coating inside the glass envelope. I cover this issue in more detail on my blog (not that I want to flash my traffic at you, or anything)

    As always, keep up the good work.


  2. Thanks for the link to your blog - you clearly know your science better than me. Thanks also for the comment and for reading my ranting!

  3. Not a problem, and you clearly know more about science than the average newspaper.I'll leave it to you to judge how scared we should all be.


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