In yet another dim bulb move, the U.S. House of Representatives just approved legislation blocking a mandated increase in light bulb efficiency. At least one good thing has come out of the new Dim Bulb Movement: Pro-polluters are finally publicly admitting that mercury is poisonous.

As James Taylor (no, not the one we have had a crush on for thirty years) of the Heartland Institute, put it, “We have enough coal and natural gas to last us for centuries so what’s the point of quote unquote saving energy by exposing ourselves to mercury poisoning?”

Guess that means he totally supports the EPA’s new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards to clean up those poisons, right? Don’t count on it. The Heartland Institute is the science deniers’ clubhouse. But they get airtime on major media--especially Fox News, which we might as well start calling Fox Views. Taylor also writes a column for Forbes magazine. Both now on my personal boycott list.

Writer Ben Stein told Fox Views: “These little curly-cue fluorescent bulbs have lead and mercury in them and all kinds of stuff that poison the atmosphere and poison the soil when you get rid of them.”

Good. He gets it. Mercury is bad for our health. However, the amount of mercury in a CFL is less than what was in an old-fashioned thermometer. If a CFL bulb breaks, and you inhale the mercury, you would get an amount equivalent to a tiny nibble of tuna.

Why are we talking about tuna fish? Because large fish are contaminated with so much mercury from coal-fired electric plants that pregnant women are warned not to eat it.

That’s the level of mercury poisoning everyone should be worrying about. The kind the EPA wants to regulate with its new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. But we don’t hear the Dim Bulbs asking for stronger rules on “lead and mercury and all kinds of stuff that poison the atmosphere” coming out of coal plants. 

Science deniers use science when it suits their arguments, and ignore it when it doesn’t.

While we’re at it, here’s a reality check on light bulbs. The Energy Department is NOT banning incandescent bulbs.  It is NOT mandating the use of CFLs--despite what you read in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, or Fox News. If you want to keep using incandescent bulbs, you will have plenty to choose from: Bulbirte, Sylvania, GE, and Phillips are selling advanced incandescents. No need to stockpile old bulbs. You’ll be saving money on your electric bills with bulbs that are more efficient. And before too long, we’ll have affordable LEDs and even more choice in CFLs.

So tell your Congresspeople to stop wasting their time--and our tax dollars--on nonsense. It's unhealthy. Join MOMS CLEAN AIR FORCE  to fight for our children’s health.


Thea said...

i hope you won't think this is an idiotic question. Should I not eat canned tuna? I'm not pregnant but I do have a niece who passed away from liver failure at a very young adult age, and they suggested the liver failure was due to possible mercury poisoning. I try only to eat alaskan salmon, not farmed in Scotland salmon because of what i've read about that. But i usually have a tuna sandwich once of twice a week. Should I? On another subject - those curly lightbulbs - i have recessed lighting fixtures in the kitchen and it takes a bit of time to warm them up. but my dimmer switch doesn't work and you can't mix bulbs and they seem to hum. I really don't like them but I use them.

david terry said...

Dear Ms. Browning,

Thank you very much. I just learned a LOT about something that's been vexing me for months now.


David Terry

Anonymous said...

What do you propose your followers do re coal producing plants? Shut them down? If you succeed, kindly advise me what you will do for the thousands of coal workers you will put out of a job, from the states that are already impoverished, including Kentucky, hence Mitch McConnell's opposition. It's very misleading to presume he, McConnell, is attempting to "cripple" the bill. While it's obvious your political bent by reading this post and the Clean Air link, and that's your choice, your blog, your rules, I think you do your readers a huge disservice by saying mercury is 'dangerous stuff', or worse, saying "mercury is bad for your health."

I Googled "is mercury bad for you" and every answer that was yes was from a "green" position, from people who believe everything is bad.

Yet Mayo Clinic, a resource I consider without any agenda, says the following re mercury, being pregnant, and eating fish:
From MayoClinic.com
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) say pregnant women can safely eat up to 12 ounces (340 grams) of seafood a week. Similarly, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 8 to 12 ounces of seafood a week for pregnant women — or about two average meals.

Not all researchers agree with these limits, however, citing a study that noted no negative effects for women who ate more seafood than the FDA-approved guidelines.

What's safe to eat? Choose seafood that's low in mercury, such as:

Shrimp Crab Salmon Pollock Catfish
Cod Tilapia; Canned light tuna is another good choice — but limit albacore tuna, chunk white tuna and tuna steak to no more than 6 ounces, or 170 grams, a week.

bluemoon329 said...

Thank you - this is my new favorite post.

Elizabeth said...

I tell you what -- the goings on in Congress rival anything in Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" --

Thanks for a great, informative post.

bluemoon329 said...

Dear Anonymous -
As a pregnant woman who shops with the safe fish list in hand, once you remove fish high in mercury, pcbs, are caught using less than ideal methods or have numbers dangerously low and are thus on the way to extinction, there actually are not many saltwater fish to choose.
As for tuna, the recommendation at 150 lbs is albacore (tinned, hopefully not BPA lined) once every 9 days. That's not including pregnant women.

I think the bottom line is if you were pregnant, would you eat it? Are these levels you feel comfortable consuming?

If I can go nine months without a glass of wine, life without tuna is just fine.

Anonymous said...

@blue moon: I'm old enough to be your grandmother, so my children were raised in a time when there was DDT sprayed on veggies! I gave birth to four incredibly healthy children and not a one has an allergy and no one was ever sick. I was never a smoker and I used common sense about drinking. No one drank much wine way back then, it wasn't in like today, so I'd have a gin and tonic when I felt like having one. I ate everything while I was pregnant and my children ate anything and everything as babies - from canned tuna, to peanut butter and eggs. I think your generation has it tough, being told from study to study what you should and should not do - even now most doctors say having a glass of wine is just fine. It's all the paranoia that drives me crazy. I say enjoy your pregnancy, know your body, and use common sense to drive your decisions.

CHC said...

I love you to pieces but get so put off when you mount your soapbox...I hate those damned light bulbs,AND WANT MY PINK PHILLIPS BULBS BACK...

Will wait until you're soft and gentle again!

The middle finger tickled me - sometimes it just pops up! What's a gal to do?

david terry said...

Regarding those PINK LIGHTBULBS?...

I'm glad to read that I'm not the only person who's slightly wistful over their disappearance.

Not to go entirely "Johnny, We hardly Knew Ye" over a Westinghouse product ( particularly since I didn't know until the mid-80's that they even existed, never bought one, and haven't seen one in at least 20 years) BUT?.....

I used to have a Very Beautiful (trust me, folks, male & female, continuously remarked on the fact for years), delightfully witty, drippingly "Suthrun", and quite intelligent (not to mention ferociously ambitious) friend. He was also, as my grandmother would say, "queer as a box of birds". We'd both entered the University of the South together at age 17.

By 1985, we were both living outside of Ye Olde Charlottesville, Virginia. He lived in an absurdly (if predictably) charming log cabin situated on one of the county's best-known horse-farms. Trust me...even at age 24, he KNEW how to work a "connnection".

I was staying there one weekend (recovering from yet another week of teaching at a shitty 3'rd rank boreding skool) when he asked me to please move so that he could "change the lightbulb". I happened to be sitting in an armchair reading a book by what I thought was a perfectly fine lamp.

Turns out he needed me to move, since folks were coming for a nice dinner that night....and he needed to install one of those pink lightbulbs. "That's the chair where I always sit during parties", he unhelpfully explained.

Turns out (as he plain-out told me) that he always installed a pink lightbulb in that particular lamp (which stood over that particular armchair) whenever he threw a dinner-party...particularly one which would feature several of the county's better-known, inevitably-Episcopalian, latter middle-aged, prosperous "bachelors". All of them seemed to "specialize" in "Architectural design" (never actual restoration), interior decoration, the BEST antiques, etcetera. My good guess, Ms. Browning, is that I don't need to introduce you to the type.

Thus?...throughout each of his charming soirees, he remained a peachy-glowing-25-year-old&delectable piece of Sebastian-Flyte goods...while all the bored society women and their attendant Olde Queenes looked like old, cold chicken meat. This maneuver worked, by the way.

He flounced onwards on Life's Trail-of-Toils to enter a snitzy Episcopal seminary, make pals with Bishop Jack Sponge (ggogle him),....and he's long since and quite successfully been what I believe is referred to as a "fixture" on the dizzyingly refined circles of Manhattan's beneficed clergy (and their parties, of course).

Recalling, just now, those long years of knowing him ....I'm surprisedly rather grateful for these newly-enforced, glaringly-blue coiled lightbulbs. Sometimes, it's Very Helpful to know what it really is that you're looking at.....I would have been saved a lot of trouble if I'd known this 25 years ago.

Advisedly yours as ever,

David Terry

James R said...

Vexed, mount your soap box, bla bla bla... What sorry sight your 'friends' are. To these whiners, you could be soft and gentle as air, but the minute your intelligence seeps through is when they are put off. If you are put off by an influential woman who articulates some of the most important points there is to speak of, then bud off!

You don't need 'friends' who nag and prefer you to be miserable, soft as in potato mush, gentle as in a preyed upon victim. What's the point of writing if you don't talk about issues that matter to you? Besides, for you to be anything but soft and gentle, you'd have to try really really hard to be harsh. You really aren't there.

Anonymous said...

You are right -Time to stockpile on bulbs...

Warren said...

Love your passion Dominique, though sometimes I find your claims pretty sweeping ... can they really track mercury in fish directly to coal-fired plants? I am a semi-believer in these bulbs; tho I think the whole program needs more effort on recycling education and drop-offs. I will be totally converted when the bulbs don't make me look like a CSI victem.

But if we can develop truly 0-energy homes like they are in Germany, then the heat from these bad but hot bulbs will provide an added benefit... Meanwhile I compensate by totally powering down the boob tube and computers. :)

bluemoon329 said...

A surprising aspect of this to me has been the ignoring of the sheer economics (by the News Corp faction). Using less energy saves you money. On a day like today, well into the 90's with an "excessive heat warning" from NOA, using lower voltage (or is it wattage?) bulbs means your house won't heat up as much. Ten 60 watt bulbs means 600 watts of energy with about 10% of that being used to create light - the rest creates heat. I don't want my ac struggling anymore than it is. And yes, keeping the electric bill down is good.

Warren said...

Guess there may be some depth to the mercury science if the mayor is donating $50M to Sierra Club.

I always look better by candlelight anyhow.

Anonymous said...

Miss those nice pink lightbulbs too! Hate these energy efficient bulbs...everyone looks horrible and old and wrinkly when you are in the stores today! I hate to look in a mirror in the stores!

Dominique said...

As always, fascinating. First up, pink bulbs. Not sure if those are going anywhere. My personal favorite was the blue bulb, very atmospheric. We all look great by candlelight; a great way to go.

Second, I like to think that my intelligence, what's left of it, shines through whether I'm talking about flowers or coal. I don't buy into the idea that it is dumb to talk about some things, smart others.

Therefore, I'm going to keep writing with passion and information about serious issues that keep me up at night: issues about the environment. If you want to skip those, be my guest. If you want to come along for the ride, that's great. I get excited learning about things, and love to share them.

The only soapbox that appeals to me, though, is one that has lavender scented things inside.

Coal and mercury, Warren. I, too, was stunned when I began to listen to lectures from toxicologists and other scientists connecting the dots. I had always heard about mercury in tuna--and had plenty of friends who had to cut back on sushi because of it. But I NEVER MADE THE CONNECTION...how did the mercury get there?

Coal-fired power plants are the biggest contributers to mercury pollution in this country. The mercury wafts through the air, rains down into water, where it is converted by an organism into methylmercury, which bioaccumulates in fatty tissue, then gets eaten up the food chain. Most of US water bodies are under mercury advisories, because of coal.

There's tons of information now on Moms Clean Air Force site, if you want to learn more.

There is PROFOUND depth to the mercury coal research. Scientists and doctors have known about this connection for decades. George Bush Senior was so concerned that he got the EPA started on mercury regulations, which have been fought every step of the way by polluters.

Thea, not at all idiotic. if I were pregnant, I would NOT eat tuna. Or swordfish. Period. End of story. I would eat wild caught salmon from the Pacific Northwest. And get omegas from flax. That's my call. We all have our own comfort levels. I'm not saying you will definitely hurt your children if you eat tuna. But the reason mercury is bad is that it accumulates in fatty tissue. In a fetus, and baby, the fatty tissue is mainly in the brain. Lots of info on mercury at Moms Clean Air Force.

To Anonymous with four healthy kids. You are lucky. But more importantly, you were pregnant at a time when there were far fewer chemicals in our lives than there are now. Also, scientists are beginning to put together a puzzle that combines genetic predisposition to certain disorders with environmental factors (chemicals in the environment) that might trigger them.

It does everyone an enormous "disservice"--worse, it is criminal--NOT to tell people about dangerous poisons. Mammals are not meant to ingest mercury.

And it is not "greens" who "believe" this. This is not a matter of faith. It is science. Hard, cold science. Not left, not right, just facts.

And re jobs: the EPA is not proposing closing all coal plants with its new standards. Just cleaning emissions. More than 50% of plants have already done this. And it has ADDED jobs. Plants that will close were already on the books to close--because they are old and not producing enough to justify expense of maintaining them. My heart goes out to the people of Kentucky, of the Appalachians, whose cancer and asthma rates are skyrocketing.

Dominique said...

PS: You don't have to use CFLs--and they don't work on dimmers, yet, a real problem. You can keep using incandescent bulbs--they'll just be more efficient. And bluemoon is absolutely correct: these solutions are MONEY SAVING. Don't we all want to cut our bills down?!