Dangerous material content

The most problematic parts of lamps are heavy toxic metals like mercury and lead. Mercury is a vital part of all fluorescent lights, the neon signs and most HID lamps. Lead is another highly toxic heavy metal. It is found in glass used in lamp production as well as a soldering agent in the screw-in bases of both old incandescent lamps and their new, fluorescent retrofitted replacements. Using such light sources then creates difficulties with disposal of used or broken light sources. From the point of view of dangerous materials content, LEDs are clearly a winner as they do not contain any mercury at all while being highly efficient.

dangerous material

 

When talking about dangers from light sources one usually imagines cutting a hand on broken bulb. This is quite far from the important natural hazards contained in most light sources used today. The problematic parts are heavy toxic metals like mercury and lead. Mercury is a vital part of all fluorescent lights, the neon signs and most HID lamps.

All of these use mercury vapours enclosed in vacuum to provide the lighting itself. When the lamp is turned on, mercury atoms become ionized, producing ultra-violet radiation. This radiation then hits a small layer of phosphorus which covers the inside of the fluorescent glass tube. The phosphorus then emits the visible spectrum.

Lead is another highly toxic heavy metal. It is found in glass used in lamp production as well as a soldering agent in the screw-in bases of both old incandescent lamps and their new, fluorescent retrofitted replacements. Quality soldering of the parts of the lamp is important to keep the vacuum inside the lamp – if tin were used it would turn liquid under high heat produced by the lamp.

Using such light sources then creates difficulties with disposal of used or broken light sources. Special care has to be taken so that the heavy metals do not get into the environment. Mercury accumulates in soils and does not disintegrate or oxidize. From soil it can get into foods, especially root vegetables. High concentrations of mercury can cause hallucinations, delirium and death. Lead has very similar properties to mercury except for being solid instead of liquid at room temperature.

The designing a lighting system that is ecological means choosing the light sources wisely. Newer fluorescent lamps contain less mercury than before, usually signified by using the adjective “eco“. Special care has to be taken when choosing the lamps – lamps marketed as longlife do not necessarily contain less mercury than normal ones. However, neither do they contain more of it.

When replacing lamps containing mercury special care has to be taken so as not to break them. Mercury can be breathed in by the employees, creating an occupational hazard. When removed the lamps have to be disposed of in special collecting centres, not normal waste, increasing maintenance costs. The comparisons show that the most efficient modern lamps usually contain less mercury than their comparable less efficient counterparts, making them both ecological and energy efficient source.

From the point of view of dangerous materials content, LEDs are clearly a winner as they do not contain any mercury at all while being highly efficient. Some of the more advanced ones can contain europium, which is a heavy metal but is considered non-toxic.



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