Flipping the Switch
Fluorescent lights are a common sight in offices, garages, and basements—but they contain toxic mercury and use far more energy than newer alternatives. By phasing out fluorescents in favor of efficient LED bulbs, states can avert a needless health risk, save families and business money on utility bills, and curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Fluorescent lighting was once the preferred option for many uses, but not anymore. LED light bulbs—readily available as replacements for fluorescents in all needed shapes and sizes—do not contain any of the toxic mercury that fluorescent bulbs do. They also cut energy use in half compared to fluorescents, last about twice as long, and typically cost far less to purchase and operate over their lifetime. So why are fluorescents still on store shelves?
In 2022, Vermont and California became the first states to phase out the sale of most fluorescent bulbs. As other states move to eliminate fluorescents, states without a clean lighting policy risk becoming a dumping ground for inefficient, mercury-containing bulbs that suppliers cannot sell elsewhere.
Reduce the Threat of Mercury Exposure
All fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, a potent neurotoxin that threatens human health and the environment. The World Health Organization counts mercury among the top 10 most dangerous chemicals impacting public health.
When fluorescent bulbs are accidentally broken—whether in homes, businesses, or the waste management system—they present a health hazard to those nearby. And when fluorescent bulbs are not disposed of properly—as happens with an estimated 75% of bulbs—mercury leaches from landfills and eventually contaminates rivers, lakes, and oceans and the fish and shellfish within them.
LEDs, which are mercury-free, are a much safer option. Technological advancements in recent years have made them readily available and cost effective.
Save Money on Electric Bills
Fluorescent bulbs are no longer the most affordable lighting option. Because they are more energy efficient than fluorescents, LEDs cost less to operate, more than paying back their slightly higher upfront costs—which continue to drop each year—through lower electric bills. A typical school could see more than $5,000 in annual utility bill savings if all its fluorescent bulbs were replaced with LEDs.
LEDs also last about twice as long as fluorescents, so they need to be replaced less often. And because LEDs do not contain mercury, a hazardous waste, they can be disposed of more easily and cheaply than fluorescents when the time comes.
Avert Needless Greenhouse Gas Emissions
LEDs use approximately half the electricity as fluorescent bulbs to produce the same amount of light. As a result, accelerating the transition to LEDs can reduce planet-warming emissions from power plants and help prevent the worst effects of climate change.
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