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Thursday, April 19, 2007

THE NEXT ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTER 

THE NEXT ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTER

In honor of Earth Day, I thought I would alert you to the next massive environmental disaster. Unlike the well publicized, albeit unproven issue of global warming; this one will come within the next ten years, and will affect us all. And this disaster will be the direct result of the actions of environmentalists, politicians, state and Federal government, and we, the consumer. The most frustrating part of this looming catastrophe is that it is avoidable.

So what is this approaching calamity? Simply stated, it is water contamination. Imagine for a moment a country without safe drinking water. No water for cooking, washing ourselves and our clothes. No way to water our crops or our gardens. Water that can cripple you, cause mental retardation, creates birth defects and genetic mutations. The ramifications are almost beyond comprehension. What could possibly cause this? Don’t we have all kinds of laws about water quality? Haven’t we spent billions of tax dollars to clean up our waters? Aren’t businesses governed by strict rules about water pollution? The answer to all of these is yes. So where will this contamination come from? Allow me to illustrate, and perhaps, educate.

My son has a ceiling fixture in his bedroom that does not provide enough light for a room that size. The fixture is limited to four bulbs, not to exceed 60 watts. In an effort to brighten the room, my wife looked for an alternative that did not involve replacing the fixture. She settled on replacing the 60 watt incandescent bulbs with the new energy efficient fluorescent bulbs. Not only do they use less electricity, while increasing the brightness of the room, they are advertised as lasting up to 5 years.

I have seen these bulbs featured on environmental news stories, magazines and newspapers, and even praised by political figures. Efficient, cost effective, brighter, environmentally friendly, and easy to use. Apparently, they have no downside whatsoever. I understand that some state and city governments are even advocating outlawing the sale of traditional incandescent bulbs, and mandating the use of this new tool to reduce global warming.

I examined all of the verbiage on the package of four bulbs my wife subsequently purchased. Terms such as “simulates natural light”, ‘uplifting and bright light”, “enhances colors” and “energy saving” were featured prominently. Being a bit of a skeptic, I did read the small print cautions on the back of the package. These advised against using in areas where they would be exposed to the weather or temperature extremes, and should not be used for emergency lighting or with dimmer switches. Nothing there that would cause me concern, so I began to install them. I was putting the fourth bulb into its socket when I noticed some very small print on the base of the bulb itself. Please allow me to quote from the bulb.

“Contains Mercury – Dispose According to Local, State or Federal Law”

Not being one to knowingly break the law, I thought I better look into this a bit. It turns out that because these bulbs contain mercury, they must be disposed of through a licensed hazardous waste facility. I called the closest such location, which is 22 miles from my residence. Yes, I was informed, they will accept these bulbs. The current cost for their processing is 50 cents per bulb. Why, I asked, was this necessary? I was informed that mercury is one of the most dangerous elements that they handle, and the most expensive to store. Why, I asked, is it so dangerous? That is when I learned of all of the health hazards attributed to mercury, and why it must be carefully handled. Mercury, it appears, is both forever, and is transferable from one medium to another. Contaminate a lake with mercury, and it gets into the fish. Eat the fish, and it gets into you. If a bird eats the fish, it gets into the bird. A cat eats the bird, and the cat is now mercury poisoned. And mercury poisoning is forever.

Now, before you write me off as an alarmist, consider this. If we replace tens of billions of incandescent light bulbs with these new bulbs, they will eventually burn out, and have to be replaced. Of the burnt out bulbs, where do you think they will go? Will people drive the 22 miles, as I will have to, and then pay a premium to dispose of these now useless bulbs; or will they simply be thrown into the weekly trash? I think we both know they will end up in the trash. That means they will go to local landfills, and will be broken while being dumped. The mercury will eventually leach into the soil at the landfill, and being a heavy element, will work its way down to the groundwater. The same groundwater that we use every day.

Five years from now these bulbs will burn out and be thrown away. Another five years for the mercury to leach into the groundwater. Result? A new environmental disaster that we will have created by following the consensus decision that using these light bulbs is a good idea. I think I may have been right when I defined ‘Consensus’ as broad agreement of improbable theories by factually disadvantaged individuals with no background in the field being discussed.

I will now ask some critical questions. Why are these products not labeled on the package as containing a dangerous ingredient? Why are the environmentalists not telling us what is necessary to properly dispose of these products? Why are our elected officials not informing us of the potential risks we incur by using these products? I have my own answers to these questions, and other questions that have crossed my mind. I will leave it to you to define your own answers. But I will leave you with one clue on where to find the answers. As with so many other issues and problems we face, it usually come down to “Follow the money”.


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