Choice is simple, time to do away with fluorescent bulbs

LED lights have many advantages, but biggest one is no mercury

MASSACHUSETTS HAS the chance to join the ranks of states taking action to phase out inefficient and toxic lighting.

Fluorescent light bulbs illuminate our offices, garages, and basements—but they contain toxic mercury and use far more energy than newer alternatives. By phasing out fluorescents in favor of efficient LED bulbs, we can avert a needless health risk, save families and businesses money on utility bills, and curb greenhouse gas emissions.

This year, Colorado said farewell to fluorescents by enacting a policy to phase out the sale of fluorescent light bulbs by 2025 joining California and Vermont who did the same last year. Lawmakers in Hawaii, Rhode Island, Maine and Oregon have all recently passed similar legislation and are just awaiting final signatures from their governors.

Massachusetts can be the next state in leading the way to cleaner, safer, and more efficient lighting as the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy considers a bill we filed, An Act Relative to Clean Lighting.

Our bill phases out the sale of the most fluorescent bulbs by 2025 and is supported by a broad coalition of consumer, health, and environmental organizations including MASSPIRG, Green Energy Consumers Alliance, Environment Massachusetts, Massachusetts Sierra Club, and the Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP).

Fluorescent lighting was once the preferred option for many uses, but not anymore. LED light bulbs—readily available as replacements for fluorescents in all needed shapes and sizes—do not contain any of the toxic mercury that fluorescent bulbs do. They also cut energy use in half compared to fluorescents, last about twice as long, and typically cost far less to purchase and operate over their lifetime.

Unlike their LED counterparts, fluorescent bulbs pose a significant public health threat because of the mercury contained in the bulbs. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that threatens human health and the environment. Mercury exposure can lead to toxic effects on the nervous, digestive, and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin, and eyes. The World Health Organization counts mercury among the top ten most dangerous chemicals impacting public health.

When fluorescent bulbs are accidentally broken—whether in homes, businesses, or the waste management system—they present an unnecessary health risk to sanitation workers, trash haulers, janitors, and others nearby. And when fluorescent bulbs are not disposed of properly—as happens with an estimated 75 percent of bulbs—mercury leaches from landfills and eventually contaminates rivers, lakes, and oceans and the fish and shellfish within them.

By transitioning from fluorescent bulbs to LEDs, Massachusetts could avoid 20 pounds of mercury waste annually by 2030, enough to contaminate 1 billion gallons of water.

Decades ago, fluorescent bulbs were hailed as an efficient lighting option compared to traditional incandescents. But,today fluorescents are no longer the most efficient or affordable lighting option. Because LEDs are more energy efficient than fluorescents, they cost less to operate, more than paying back their slightly higher upfront costs—which continue to drop each year—through lower electric bills. A typical school could see more than $5,000 in annual utility bill savings if all its fluorescent bulbs were replaced with LEDs.

LEDs also last about twice as long as fluorescents, so they need to be replaced less often. And because LEDs do not contain mercury, a hazardous waste, they can be disposed of more easily and cheaply than fluorescents when the time comes. If our bill passes, by 2030, Massachusetts households and businesses would save more than $146 million annually on their utility bills.

And finally, LEDs use approximately half the electricity as fluorescent bulbs to produce the same amount of light. As a result, accelerating the transition to LEDs can reduce planet-warming emissions from power plants and help prevent the worst effects of climate change.

By phasing out fluorescents Massachusetts could avoid the release of 954,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of 205,000 gasoline-powered passenger vehicles driven for one year by 2050.

Meet the Author

Josh Cutler

Guest Contributor

About Josh Cutler

Josh Cutler is a Democratic state representative from Duxbury who represents the Sixth Plymouth District in the Massachusetts Legislature.

About Josh Cutler

Josh Cutler is a Democratic state representative from Duxbury who represents the Sixth Plymouth District in the Massachusetts Legislature.

Meet the Author
As state lawmakers, we face many difficult problems to solve, including homelessness, climate change, the high cost of college, and many others. In our book, saying farewell to fluorescents is not one of those hard problems. This law is a win-win for Massachusetts, saving residents and businesses money while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the risk of toxic mercury exposure and contamination.

Josh Cutler is the state representative from Duxbury and Susan Moran is the state senator from Falmouth.