by Danielle G. Lacsamana

Lighting is one of the most important devices in homes, buildings and learning facilities. The provision of lighting allows us to extend our social and economic activities. It offers protection and security to individuals and families. However lighting devices are not created equal.

The most popular lighting bulbs in the world are tubular fluorescent and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). These lamps contain mercury – a neurotoxic element that can cause harmful and long-term health effects to people and environment.

In the 2018 Mercury Assessment report of the Energy Management Bureau, the agency found that there were 588.5 million units of double end fluorescent and 147 million units of CFLs used in the country. Mercury is released once fluorescent waste were disposed and got broken.

The huge number of mercury-containing lighting units in the Philippines translates to an estimated 25.5 tons of mercury being used and disposed in the country per year!

But how toxic is one fluorescent? A single CFL has enough mercury to contaminate 30,000 liters of water and to make the water unsafe for drinking. Mercury bio-accumulates and it can enter the food chain and pass from one creature to another. Truly, there is no “safe” level of mercury in the environment.

The meeting of the Fourth Conference of Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury (COP-4) is happening this week in Bali, Indonesia. The Convention aims to protect the planet from the threats of mercury pollution. The African countries submitted to the Convention a proposal to phase-out the manufacture, import, and export of all fluorescent lighting by 2025. Fluorescent was one of the mercury-containing devices that were exempted for phase-out by the Convention when it was launched in 2013.

Significant advancements happened in the lighting sector especially in LED technologies in recent years. An LED bulb that has same illuminance of CFL consumed less than half of electricity. LED has no mercury and it has longer industry lifetime than fluorescent. LED is more energy-efficient, economic and safer alternative than fluorescent.

As a party to the Minamata Convention, the Philippine government should support the African Lighting Amendment. Fluorescent and CFLs can still be bought in our local markets. We should start phasing out these toxic and outdated lighting lamps.

The global Clean Lighting Coalition (CLiC) CLiC estimates that if the Philippines phase out the exportation and sale of fluorescent devices by 2025, it will result to a national energy saving of 70.16 terra-watt hours (TWh) by 2050. This translates to 12.6 billion dollars in financial savings for the country.

African countries have been dumping grounds of toxic post-consumed products and electronic waste from developed countries. Here in the Philippines, we have seen discarded fluorescent lamps in streets, dumpsites and worst thrown into the environment. The elimination of florescent lamps will be remove one toxic product sold in the market.

Our government representatives to the Minamata Convention should champion the health and welfare of the Filipino people. Let us support the African Lighting Amendment and make mercury history. It’s time to say no to fluorescent and other mercury-containing devices.

The article was published both in the print and online version of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Photo by Christian Taube/ Wikimedia