Handling and disposal of mercury containing light bulbs
Sir: Since 2014, developed and developing countries phased out incandescent light bulbs, also known as filament light bulbs, due to their high energy consumption compared to energy saving bulbs and lamps. Energy saver bulbs use one-fifth to one-tenth of the electric power and last eight to 15 times longer than incandescent bulbs. A wide variety of energy-efficient mercury-containing light bulbs e.g. Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) and other fluorescent lamps (straight, U-bend, circular), neon and argon lamps, high intensity discharge lamps (HIDs), which include mercury vapor bulbs, metal halides and high pressure sodium lamps, quickly became popular both within households and businesses due to environmental and human health benefits such as lower toxicity concentrations, conservation of natural resources and lower costs.
Unfortunately, investigations and assessments by environmental protection agencies and private research faculties across the globe revealed that various energy efficient bulbs contain heavy metals that seep into our soil and waterways when improperly disposed, leading to mercury poisoning resulting in numerous ailments in humans and animals alike. Crude disposal processes also lead to breakages, exposing handlers to mercury vapor with cancerous health hazards. In addition, according to the Daily Mail, UK, German scientists discovered that several carcinogenic chemicals and toxins are released when CFLs are modestly used as toxins such as phenol, naphthalene, styrene and mercury vapors are released. Furthermore, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officially released emergency advisory measures in case of breakage of these products. CFLs are highlighted as any breakage indoors can lead to 20 times the upper safety limit of mercury in the immediate environment, causing the following health issues: migraines, dizziness, headaches, difficulty in concentration and fatigue. It is also worthy of note that mercury, being a neurotoxin, is specifically dangerous for the brain, kidneys, liver, the nervous system, the reproductive system including the immune and cardiovascular systems.
To prevent this looming health and environmental crisis in Nigeria, environmental regulators such as Federal and State Ministries of the Environment, National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), State Environmental Protection Agencies amongst others must urgently identify and partner with truly reputable electronic waste management and recycling companies to implement community engagement programmes aimed at sensitizing the Nigerian public on the dangers of usage, improper handling and disposal of energy saver bulbs like CFLs. The populace must also be educated on how to safely handle, package and dispose damaged bulbs effectively.
It is recommended that emergency collection centres for mercury containing bulbs must be urgently established nationwide, to be co-funded by the original manufacturers of these products under the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme launched in the federal capital in May 2019. Degaussing and irreversible destruction of confidential data storage devices and proprietary material to prevent data breach; Decommissioning of un-needed and obsolete electronics devices, etc.
Dr. Ifeanyi Ochonogor, MD/CEO, E-Terra Technologies Ltd and president, E-waste Relief Foundation, wrote from Lagos.