Monday, May 04, 2009

GREEN LIGHTBULBS CAN BE DEADLY FOR THOSE WHO MAKE THEM

Times, UK - When British consumers are compelled to buy energy-efficient lightbulbs from 2012, they will save up to 5m tons of carbon dioxide a year from being pumped into the atmosphere. In China, however, a heavy environmental price is being paid for the production of green light bulbs in cost-cutting factories.

Large numbers of Chinese workers have been poisoned by mercury, which forms part of the compact fluorescent light bulbs. A surge in foreign demand, set off by a European Union directive making these bulbs compulsory within three years, has also led to the reopening of mercury mines that have ruined the environment. . .

Making the bulbs requires workers to handle mercury in either solid or liquid form because a small amount of the metal is put into each bulb to start the chemical reaction that creates light.

Mercury is recognized as a health hazard by authorities worldwide because its accumulation in the body can damage the nervous system, lungs and kidneys, posing a particular threat to babies in the womb and young children.

The risks are illustrated by guidance from the British government, which says that if a compact fluorescent light bulb is broken in the home, the room should be cleared for 15 minutes because of the danger of inhaling mercury vapor.

Documents issued by the Chinese health ministry, instructions to doctors and occupational health propaganda all describe mercury poisoning in lighting factories as a growing public health concern.

"Pregnant women and mothers who are breastfeeding must not be allowed to work in a unit where mercury is present," states one official rulebook. . .

Tests on hundreds of employees have found dangerously high levels of mercury in their bodies and many have required hospital treatment, according to interviews with workers, doctors and local health officials in the cities of Foshan and Guangzhou.