Advocates to lawmakers: Say farewell to fluorescents

Media Contacts
Johanna Neumann

Senior Director, Campaign for 100% Renewable Energy, Environment America

Matt Casale

Former Director, Environment Campaigns, PIRG

Citing more efficient, nontoxic alternatives, environmental, consumer groups urge fluorescent lighting phase-out

BOSTON — This spring, lawmakers in more than 10 states are considering policies to phase out fluorescent bulbs to reduce utility bills and protect public health, which could set precedents for further federal and international action. 

“With the leaps in LED technology we’ve witnessed over the past decade, pulling the plug on fluorescent lighting is a sensible step forward,” said Johanna Neumann, senior director of Environment America’s Campaign for 100% Renewable Energy, who is helping lead a multi-state campaign to phase out fluorescent bulbs.

Fluorescent light bulbs are a common sight in offices, garages and basements, but they contain toxic mercury and are incredibly inefficient compared to newer alternatives. As energy costs soar nationwide, people are looking for ways to save energy. 

Like many technologies, lighting has evolved over the decades. Fluorescent tube light bulbs, once embraced as an energy-efficient option, use far more energy than today’s LEDs and are a needless toxic health risk because they contain mercury. The World Health Organization lists mercury, a potent and persistent neurotoxin, among the 10 most dangerous chemicals impacting public health.

“Mercury poses a particular threat to child development,” said Matt Casale, environment campaigns director for U.S. PIRG. “If we can eliminate an unnecessary source of mercury pollution in the environment, we should seize that opportunity.”

Americans looking to replace fluorescent bulbs can readily find LED bulbs in all needed shapes and sizes. LEDs use half the energy of fluorescents, last about twice as long and typically cost far less to purchase and operate over their lifetime. 

“Fluorescent bulbs used to be the energy-efficient option, but that’s just not the case anymore,” said Brian Fadie, State Policy Associate with the Appliance Standards Awareness Project. “LEDs have changed the game and there’s no good reason to keep using fluorescents at this point.”

During a policy briefing for state lawmakers and their staff, advocates from Environment America, the Appliance Standards Awareness Project explained the environmental and health benefits of phasing out fluorescent lighting. 

Rapidly phasing out most fluorescent models would prevent bulbs containing 12,357 pounds of mercury from being sold and installed in the United States through 2050, according to the Appliance Standards Awareness Project. Additional research found a rapid phase-out of fluorescent lighting in favor of LEDs would cut energy costs in the United States by more than $4 billion in 2030

A representative for Republic Services, a national company that handles recycling and waste services for 13 million customers in 47 states, explained their support of the bill on worker safety and financial grounds.

“We work hard to reduce contamination in the waste stream and keep our workers safe, ” said Charles Helget, California Director of Government Affairs of Republic Services, “That gets easier when bulbs containing mercury get phased out.”

Vermont and California passed policies last year to phase out fluorescent lighting. We expect lawmakers to introduce bills in Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Rhode Island, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon and Washington in the current legislative session.

This coming November, 137 nations will consider whether to support an amendment to the Minamata Convention on Mercury to ban the manufacture, import and export of fluorescent bulbs in the participating countries.