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Hazardous mercury levels in energy-efficient CFLs
India has no law to mandate manufacturers to cap mercury level in lamps
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, September 29
Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) being used in the Indian market could have major health implications for unsuspecting consumers, a significant new study on mercury contained in these energy efficient devices has shown.

Although mercury (a highly toxic heavy metal) is integral to the functioning of CFLs, the fact that Indian laws do not mandate caps on its content in these devices makes them hazardous.

Mercury leak from a broken CFL or an improperly disposed (India has no CFL collection, recycling or disposal rules) lamp could, over a period of time, adversely impact vital human organs like the liver and cause neurological problems; unregulated disposal of mercury from lamps could potentially contaminate the environment and the food chain.

New evidence from the testing of 22 samples of four leading CFL brands in India has now revealed shocking facts -- the average mercury content per unit of CFL is 21.21 milligram (mg) in India -- four to six times higher than that in the developed world where manufacturers are required to adhere to mandated mercury limits in CFLs and also follow safe technologies which cost more. Back in India, leading CFL producers, mainly MNCs, are adhering to low cost and old droplet technology which has been phased out in most of the developed world.

Released in the capital by Toxics Link today, the study titled, “Toxics in that glow”, found 50 per cent of the analysed samples containing average mercury ranging from 12.25 mg to 39.64 mg. This range is much higher than the 3 to 12 mg mercury range in Indian CFLs which the Central Pollution Control Board declared in its report on the subject in 2008.

In the sampled CFLs, the overall range of mercury content was 2.27 mg to 62.56 mg; the latter being extremely unsafe. Compare this with the situation in the west - in the US, members of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association voluntarily capped mercury content in CFLs at 4 mg per CFL for units up to 25 watts and 5 mg/CFL for units above 25 watts. In the European Union too, the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (ROHS) law mandates mercury capping at 5 mg/CFL.

But in India, there is no mandatory cap. The study also found the CFLs with the same wattage containing different levels of mercury. The highest mercury content - of 62.56 mg was found in 11 watt CFLs which are most purchased in India.

“Worse still, the Indian manufacturers have been resisting any pressure to follow mandatory mercury caps or recycling regulations. The Indian CFL industry is exploiting the new market opened up by climate change crisis and putting the consumers at risk. The Government is procrastinating on mandating a CFL collection and recycling system. Sadly, business interests are bypassing health concerns,” Ravi Agarwal, Director, Toxics Link said.

At present, the CFL has a market share of 21 pc with over 300 million units annually in India. The average penetration of CFLs in the Indian lighting market has been growing at an annual 36 pc. Moreover, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh having announced the Bachat Lamp Yojana in February 2009 to phase out incandescent lamps altogether, CFL share is set to cross 400 million units annually by 2012.

As the CFL market expands, we must think -- where are the unusable and broken CFLs going? Where is their mercury going? Why are manufacturers not investing in new technology?,” Agarwal asks. Toxics Link estimates that 8.5 tonnes of mercury from CFLs and 8 tonnes of mercury from fluorescent lamps are entering the environment in the absence of recycling and safe disposal rules.

The new E-Waste Rules which the government released this May 18 also strangely leave out the lighting industry.





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