Lately I’ve been wrestling with what to do about an eight foot long fluorescent light in my studio that doesn’t’ work now due to a bad ballast. There has been a revolution in lighting over the last couple of decades, and while not puzzled about its purpose, I’ve been largely left behind.
I first realized that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore when the Georgia legislature passed a law that basically overturned a Federal mandate. The law would allow companies to continue to manufacture and sell incandescent lights. While I didn’t look into the back story I suspect that there is some company based in Georgia that makes light bulbs.
In Georgia, though, it might simply be that citizens don’t like the Federal government telling them what to do.
There is also a possibility – almost not worthy of consideration – that the legislators were trying to protect Georgians from mercury poisoning.
“Mercury poisoning” you might ask? Yes, mercury poisoning, but that is rapidly becoming a non-issue.
What exactly is wrong with the old lighting system; the one that our grandparents were proud to have in their homes? Let’s take a look at various lighting systems and their up and down sides.
My grandmother’s home had originally had gas lighting. In Oklahoma where natural gas was almost an unwanted by-product of oil wells, gas was cheap. So, many homes were built with gas lamps to replace coal oil (kerosene) lamps, and gas lines were run into the house and up the walls to lamps. As you might suspect these lights produced colorless and odorless fumes and the lamps had to be lit and turned off by hand. And, there was a risk of house fires, although probably no more than with kerosene lanterns.
So, Grandma’s house was converted to electricity allowing for wall switches and decreasing the need for matches. Grandma’s house ultimately burned, probably due to faulty wiring. She claimed it was the city’s fault because every time the lights came on at the football stadium nearby she had a brown-out. The city won that fight.
Grandma’s house had 10 or 12 foot ceilings, was heated by a pot-bellied coal fired stove in the living room, a wood cook stove, a well pump in the kitchen, and an attached bathroom. I was too young to ask why she had a well in the kitchen and city water in the bathroom, but she did.
My parent’s house was built in the 1930s. It had overhead electric lights in the center of each room, including the bathroom. It had no heat or air conditioning, but we were ahead of some of the neighbors who had neither, electricity nor running water.
The light fixtures in our home used incandescent bulbs. The problem with incandescent bulbs can be illustrated by the fact that we had an extension cord that ran to the brooder house in back where the baby chicks were kept warm by a light bulb. Incandescent lights are inefficient sources of light because the current running through the copper wire produces heat as well as light as a result of resistance in the wire. Unless you are raising chickens the heat is wasted.
There have been a lot of fads in lighting like track lighting, recessed lighting, and, for a time, no light fixtures at all. All of these involved the use of either incandescent or fluorescent light bulbs, and were designed to make rooms, that now had eight foot ceilings seem larger.
You probably know the issues with fluorescent bulbs; they last a long time, but put out a garish light due to the fact that the inert gas inside the tube puts out light at a specific wavelength. It takes a bit for the light to come on as enough charge accumulates to excite the fluorescence. Still, fluorescent lights have been very successful in certain applications.
Fifteen years or so ago the compact fluorescent light (CFL) became popular as a replacement for incandescent light bulbs. The CFL used a coiled fluorescent tube and compact electronic ballast that would fit into a light socket in lamps and ceiling fixtures. They rapidly became unpopular because regular dimmers could not be used with them for risk of a fire, and they put out the same garish light complained about with regular fluorescent bulbs. About nine years ago we replaced a few bulbs in low use areas where one might forget to turn the light out, like the utility crawl space and storage areas in the attic. The output was pitiful, and one of the bulbs gave off a dim pink glow probably due to some color being added to the glass. Unbeknownst to us, they contained trace amounts of mercury, a toxin.
A year or so ago we replaced a number of bulbs in hard to reach, recessed lighting fixtures with LED lights. Eventually, I want to replace all of our bulbs with LEDs.
LEDs are the current wave of the future. They are energy efficient, the high price is coming down with increased demand, and they can last for years. G.E. has recently decided to discontinue the manufacture of CFL bulbs in favor of LEDs.
Scientific American had an article about the “dark side of LEDs” that talked about trace amounts of lead and arsenic in LEDs that could be toxic if a person was repeatedly exposed to broken bulbs. LEDs are extensively used now in automobile tail lights and in traffic signal lights. The recommendation was that workers who clean up after auto accidents or broken traffic lights should wear masks and gloves.
I’ve got a lot to worry about. Three hurricanes, a characteristically slow to respond FEMA and a president who complains that Puerto Ricans are spoiled whiners who are ruining the U.S. budget occupy all of the worry capacity of my brain. I can’t worry about trace amounts of lead and arsenic in my LEDs. I used to reload my own shotgun shells and melt tire weights to make lead fishing sinkers, for crying out loud. I probably have brain damage but I’m blissfully unaware of it.
Actually, neurological damage with lead exposure is a hazard for children with developing brains. Arsenic, in addition to death from exposure has some cancer risk associated with lower level exposure. Mercury toxicity causes neurological degeneration. In Japan it is called Minemata and it was caused by industrial mercury contamination of shellfish.
There is an LED replacement for the eight foot long fluorescent light in my studio. The bulb costs $100.00. Maybe I’ll just work in the dark for a while.
Hope this has shed some light on lights.
I’m still trying to figure out Bruce Springsteen’s, “Blinded by the light”.
(Bet you thought Manfred Mann wrote it.)
The original, Springsteen, version: