As the U.S.A. celebrates its 234th birthday, the plight of a quintessentially American innovation says volumes about the state of the union.
As American as the grand slam, the Mustang convertible, and the constitutional republic, Thomas Alva Edison’s incandescent light bulb is among this nation’s most enduring gifts to mankind. Granted U.S. Patent No. 223,898 on January 27, 1880 (after some 1,200 experiments), Edison’s “Electric-Lamp” essentially made night optional for most Earthlings. Days stopped ending at sunset. Simple, convenient, and cheap, Edison’s greatest invention also was far safer than the flammable kerosene lamps they replaced.
Today’s federal government, naturally, had to hammer something that has hummed along nicely for 130 years. In one of his most shameful moments, former president George W. Bush foolishly signed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. EISA establishes performance criteria that Edisonian bulbs cannot meet. As the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) explains
: “These standards, which begin in 2012, will eliminate low efficiency incandescent light bulbs from the market.”
According to an April 14 fact sheet from General Electric, which Edison founded in 1876, 276 versions of its incandescent bulbs will start to vanish just 18 months from now. Few Americans realize that federal busybodies plan to snatch their traditional bulbs. Sylvania’s December 2009 survey of 302 adults found that “awareness of the 2012 100-watt bulb phase-out” is just 18 percent (error margin: +/- 5.7 percent).
EISA has made more common compact fluorescent lights, those swirly bulbs with distinct pros and cons. Costlier up front, energy-efficient CFLs eventually save money. They also require less frequent replacement than do traditional bulbs.
To discover CFLs’ negatives, try setting a romantic mood with a dimmer switch. This is, at best, a hit or miss proposition. Scarier still, just drop one onto your kitchen floor. Its internal mercury is highly toxic. If spilled, it requires something approximating a Superfund cleanup. The Environmental Protection Agency warns that if a CFL breaks on one’s apparel or bedspread, “Do not wash such clothing or bedding because mercury fragments in the clothing may contaminate the machine and/or pollute sewage” (emphasis added).
CFLs should be discarded at recycling centers. Hundreds of millions of busy Americans, however, will toss these dangerous bulbs in the trash, atop table scraps and junk mail. CFLs will clog landfills from coast to coast. Decades hence, mercury will have leeched into the environment. Americans will wonder why people are suffering brain, kidney, and lung damage. Medical visits will yield lawsuits. And yet another national disaster will erupt, courtesy of Washington, D.C.