Ameren fails to warn of CFL hazards

cfl_light_bulbAmeren Illinois Utilities has been pushing CFLs, compact fluorescent lights, in their “Facts on Energy” bill inserts lately (and apparently in commercials). The utility is offering “bargain prices” on the bulbs, “which typically use 75 percent less energy, give off less heat and last eight times longer than standard incandescent bulbs,” according to the January 2009 insert. The December issue of the insert tells people they can “save $100 in 2009 simply by replacing 20 standard incandescent light bulbs” with the CFLs, although in that issue, the claim was that they lasted up to 10 times longer.

What the “Facts on Energy” inserts don’t tell customers is that CFLs are dangerous. According to the January/February 2008 issue of Midwestern Family, “It is against the law for any Illinois business to dispose of a CFL in a municipal landfill, but residential homes have, so far, been overlooked.” That’s because of the mercury contained in the CFLs.

“While compact fluorescent light bulbs are great for cutting down energy consumption, their contents are hazardous. John Becker, owner of Farmington Road Hardware, started a collection bin for CFLs at the end of October [Note: That store has since closed.] ‘If you do break a CFL, clear the room immediately. (A CFL) can contaminate 22,000 gallons of water in a heartbeat, it’s not something you should mess with. People should dispose of them properly,’ Becker says.”

The WattWorks Web site has additional warnings, such as this:

“CFLs contain an average of 5 mg (range of 0.9 to 18 mg) of mercury. Breaking a single CFL bulb in a room can result in mercury vapor levels 300 times in excess of what the EPA has established as safe for prolonged exposure. Serious health effects are associated with mercury exposure. Unborn and young children, elderly and those with weakened health are particularly vulnerable. Mercury affects the nervous system. Neuro-pathways of children are still developing and exposure can result in permanent damage.”

The Ameren inserts do not contain any warnings about the mercury hazards of CFLs, which have been known for some time now, in their touting of the bulbs.

That’s irresponsible.

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Back on line

The electric line, that is.

After four days without power, meaning nothing to run our furnace, following an ice storm, we’re looking at ways around the inconvenience.

Yes, we are babies. We like our electricity. We like our warmth. We like our light. We like our water. Yet we are trying to find ways to decrease our dependence upon the grid.

Our power went out in the midst of an ice storm on the night of Thursday, Dec. 18. More than 33,000 customers of Ameren/CILCO were without power after that storm and the high winds that followed it. Most of them were back on line within a couple days. We weren’t. The workers, who had to contend with subzero windchills, weren’t able to get to ours until Monday.

The first couple days we handled OK. We fired up the kerosene heater in the kitchen, hauled out the lanterns and lit the candles. Thanks to having a stove/oven that uses a pilot light, we were able to have a hot meal on Friday for the beginning of Sabbath, then read aloud by lantern-light.

After being gone for much of Sabbath to services and visiting with my in-laws, we returned to a chilly house and falling temperatures. I woke up at 4:30 a.m. Sunday to 47.6 degrees, and decided to stay up and get the kerosene heater going so we wouldn’t fall to freezing. For the first of two nights, the outside temperature would fall below zero.

After the kitchen temperature, despite the kerosene heater and oven going, wouldn’t nudge above 65 degrees, we decided to abandon ship and take up an offer a friend had extended. He is caretaker of a ministry camp that had empty lodges. We gathered up clothes and other essentials, including some food, and headed over there, enjoying a warm night’s sleep and morning showers.

During a trip into town for some bread and lunch meat, which would be our supper, we drove to a spot where, we had been told, some lines had fallen. Sure enough, the crews were at work — three cherry-pickers in the air putting up a new pole. A couple hours later, our power was back on.

The only fallout we’ve had were frozen pipes, though they had thawed by this morning with no apparent leaks, and some food that went bad in the refrigerator’s freezer. Food in our chest freezer in the garage stayed cold, probably thanks to cold conditions out there. We also stored food out there from the fridge, and most of it stayed good.

We only let our frustration and spoiledness come through a few times. Most of the time we turned to prayer for the situation and did what we had to do.

Now, however, we’re looking at alternatives, such as a wood-burning stove or a standby generator. Either one would cost a few thousand, but it may be worth it in the end.