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Important to keep mercury debate in perspective

Media Release

27 July 2007

Important to keep mercury debate in perspective

New Zealand’s representative lighting body, Lighting Council New Zealand (LCNZ) says it’s important the debate over the mercury content of compact fluorescent lamps, or CFLs, is kept in perspective.

This follows claims on TV3’s Target programme (24 July) that energy-efficient lamps such as CFLs pose risks to human health and the environment if they are not recycled or disposed of correctly because of their mercury content.

However a spokesperson for LCNZ says the amount of mercury used in lamps has declined rapidly over the last decade.

LCNZ Chairman Rob Tomkies says the amount in each lamp is now only about 3 or 4 milligrams (mg) – the same size as the ball in a ballpoint pen.

“Household batteries and older fluorescent lamps contained more mercury than today’s lamps but no action was taken when risks were higher.

“Leading lamp manufacturers have striven to reduce the environmental impact caused by the mercury content of lamps.

“Mercury is a naturally occuring metal and in itself, not poisonous.

“Most people over age 40 would have the mercury equivalent of a few CFL’s as part of the dental amalgam in their teeth.

“The main danger with Mercury is when it builds up as compounds, via landfills, and ends up in the food chain where it can cause genetic problems in certain animal species.

“A lot of mercury enters the food chain via soot caused by burning fossil fuels such as coal.

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“It is important to remember that mercury is not in a vapour form when a CFL is broken. At normal atmospheric pressures mercury immediately resumes its liquid inform.

“There is no international standard for CFLs, but LCNZ and representative lighting bodies from Australia and China have recently ratified a minimum performance standard.

“This means within the next four months, all manufacturers of CFLs must adhere to the standard for exports to New Zealand, including the requirement each CFL contain no more than 5mg of mercury.

“In addition, we are working closely with Government to try and develop a coherent waste management plan for all lighting products including CFLs.

“It is not only important that the New Zealand lighting industry works closely with Government to ensure products can be safely disposed of or recycled but also that government adopts a fair and equitable approach to all industry sectors generating waste,” says Mr Tomkies.


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