Why Is There Mercury In Light Bulbs

Mercury is found in some light bulbs.

Mercury is a toxic material to humans. According to the CDC, “A case in which whole blood mercury levels (>10 µg/L) are detected, as determined by a commercial laboratory,” determines the toxicity levels of biological mercury. Even with mercury’s toxicity, it is used in many different things, including light bulbs.

Which Bulbs

CFL bulbs us a tube filled with gas and a little mercury to creat light.

Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) contain mercury within the tube of the bulb. The risk of contamination comes only if the tube is broken allowing the mercury to escape. CFL bulbs require less electricity than standard incandescent bulbs.

Why Mercury is Needed

Mercury is one of the key elements in the CFL bulb. The mercury actually creates ultraviolet light as mercury electrons are excited from electricity passing between an electrode on each side of the tube. Phosphor coating inside the tube reacts with the ultraviolet light creating the visible light. Without the mercury, the light bulb would not function.


With the smaller electric footprint of the CFL, power plants don’t need to produce as much power. The power consumption of a single incandescent light bulb produces more mercury from a coal burning power plant than what is found in a CFL. According to Energy Star, the mercury produced from an incandescent bulbs power consumption is 5.8 mg. The amount of mercury produced for a CFLs power consumption is only 1.2 mg. Add to that the 0.6 mg of mercury found in the the bulb and the total impact is still only 1.8 mg, 4 mg less than an incandescent bulb.

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CFL bulbs should be properly recycled and not thrown out with the regular trash. In the trash the tube can break. When the tube is broken, that area (usually a landfill) is exposed to the mercury. According to, Medicine Net, if people breathe in high levels of mercury “it can damage the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and immune system.”


LED bulbs use no mercury.

There is another type of bulb that has a low impact in mercury production and usage. LED bulbs have a long life, lasting ten times as long as CFL bulbs, and contain no mercury. LED bulbs also provide directional light, meaning that you can face them to where the light is needed. CFL bulbs do not produce heat which means a smaller impact on your home energy bill when air conditioning.