According to an estimate 10,000 kg of mercury dumped so far
Promoting the use of either compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) or Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs as alternatives for energy guzzling incandescent bulbs is not easy as both face serious setbacks, including health hazards posed by CFLs in the absence of a safe disposal policy.
Considering that Karnataka is a power-starved State, energy saving initiatives are always welcome. The State Government recently announced that it would soon begin to provide up to four CFLs to poor households at Rs. 15 in exchange for four incandescent lamps. The Centre put in place a similar scheme in 2009 to promote the use of CFL.
LED lamps, however, can save up to six times energy in a year compared to CFLs, according to a research paper authored by Rajbeer Singh, Assistant Professor for Science, Society and Development Studies, Central University of Gujarat. They last 12 years and require no maintenance or replacement until then, the paper says. CFL on the other hand lasts only around a year.
However, the technologies used by CFL and LED lamp manufacturers, and the approach of the Government, have come in for criticism from independent bodies such as the Indian Society of Lighting Engineers.
Chairman of the Karnataka unit of the society M.S.N. Swamy said there were several problems with CFL and LED lamps. There was no policy in place to dispose of used lamps which contain mercury.
These include CFL, mercury vapour lamps, sodium vapour lamps and metal halides lamps. Mercury is a toxic metal known to cause adverse health effects when it enters the environment in great amounts.
10,000 kg of mercury
A recent report in Down To Earth magazine says that the permissible level of mercury in fluorescent lamps is 5 mg, according to the International Electrotechnical Commission. According to Ministry of Power data, around 200 million CFL units have been sold in the country until 2008. Assuming that all of these lamps have 5 mg of mercury, around 10,000 kg of mercury had been unscientifically disposed of.
Mr. Swamy was critical of the Government's herd mentality approach to using CFL everywhere, without considering the purpose. CFL units emit UV rays which can damage documents, papers and paintings.
He said that LED lights could last 15 years provided they were manufactured with good quality material. He said the Government could work out a contract with energy service companies to provide LED lamps to consumers and install them for free.
One of the ways the company could be paid was to transfer the cost of the energy saved by the LED lamps to the company for the period of the contract.