What Are the Dangers of Fluorescent Lighting?

Written by jay leone
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Fluorescent bulbs emit light when photons contact the bulb's inner coating. These photons are created when electricity passes through the argon and mercury gases between a fluorescent bulb's electrodes. There are certain dangers linked with fluorescent lighting technology. The mercury used in fluorescent technology can be harmful if ingested, inhaled or otherwise absorbed into the body. The average fluorescent bulb employs around 5 mg of mercury gas. Fluorescent lights emit ultraviolet light, which can also be damaging to the body.

Mercury Exposure

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identifies the elemental mercury that manufacturers use in the construction of fluorescent bulbs as toxic; it can be very damaging to a person's health. An unbroken fluorescent bulb poses no health risks, but a damaged fluorescent bulb will leak its mercury gas contents into the environment. Inhaling the mercury from a broken or cracked fluorescent bulb can lead to side effects. Irritability, nervousness and emotional changes may occur after inhaling the mercury contained within the average fluorescent bulb, which is between 4 and 5 mg. Changes in nerve response, muscle atrophy as well as other neuromuscular changes may be experienced shortly after inhaling the mercury within a fluorescent bulb.

Overexposure to Mercury

Operating near intact fluorescent light bulbs or directly under fluorescent lighting is completely harmless; fluorescent bulbs pose health risks only when they are cracked and the mercury is allowed to escape. The EPA warns that while inhaling the mercury contents of the average fluorescent bulb (4 to 5 mg) may lead to experiencing only mild side effects, exposure to the mercury contents from many fluorescent bulbs in a short period of time can be deadly. Respiratory failure and kidney failure are likely side effects of overexposure to the mercury in fluorescent bulbs. A person's cognitive function can be severely compromised from excessive mercury exposure. It should be noted that death from inhaling fluorescent light bulb mercury is extremely rare; however, medical attention should be sought immediately following suspected mercury exposure.

Broken Fluorescents

Many fluorescent bulbs are made out of thinner gauged glass, which is easy to break; in addition, broken fluorescent glass shards can be very sharp. The most urgent issue with broken fluorescent bulbs is dealing with the mercury. Opening a window immediately after a fluorescent bulb breaks for around 15 minutes allows the mercury gas that has been released to dissipate to non-threatening levels. Glass shards should be carefully gathered with cardboard and sealed in a bag or jar. Since mercury is recyclable, broken, used or defective fluorescent bulbs can be taken to a mercury recycling location.

Ultraviolet Light Exposure

Fluorescent light bulbs emit visible light as well as some level of ultraviolet light. Excessive exposure to ultraviolet light can lead to many health problems like skin cancer. Despite the fact that fluorescent bulbs emit ultraviolet light, General Electric states that the amount of ultraviolet radiation coming off of these lights is so low that regular exposure to it will not lead to any negative health effects.

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