CFL bulb myths

Recently this email was sent around my library that started out like this … ” I turned it on the other day and then smelled smoke after a few minutes. Four inch flames were spewing out of the side of the ballast like a blow torch! I immediately turned off the lights. But I’m sure it would have caused a fire if I was not right there. Imagine if the kids had left the lights on as usual when they were not in the room. ….” As a librarian I know it is important to check your sources so I asked our university Sustainability Coordinator about these emails.  First, the email is false – it’s listed verbatim and debunked on (a great place to go to check out these type of email/urban myths). But he also shared some other information about CFLs:

“If one looks at the lifecycle analysis of CFLs versus incandescents, one sees that incandescents cause more mercury (almost 4X more) to be emitted into the environment over their lives than CFLs.  This is due to the mercury emitted during the electricity-generation process. (check out this Frequently Asked Questions Information on Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs) and Mercury pdf  from November 2010 for more information).  This doesn’t address what happens in a discrete (home) environment, however.  CFLs can be finicky – they should definitely not be used with dimmers unless they are SPECIFICALLY LABELED DIMMER-CAPABLE.  I’ve read mixed results about CFLs in can lights – if the temperature around the CFL is too high, it can burn out prematurely.”

And dealing with burned out CFL bulbs, find proper recycling and disposal location(EPA suggestions or search locally pm Earth911).  Home Depot stores offer receptacles for CFLs as often do Lowes. Some campuses now collect them as well.


– Thanks Trey for your advice and expertise!