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They certainly emit mercury when they're broken, and the instructions for cleaning up broken CFLs call for several hours of ventilation, which implies that the mercury vapor escapes into the atmosphere. (See, for example, the cleanup instructions at the bottom of this page: http://www.epa.state.il.us/mercury/compact-fluorescent.html)

I'd guess that a large percentage of people who buy CFLs are totally unaware of how to deal with these hazards (or are even unaware that the bulbs contain poisonous material).

Also, the rise in the use of CFLs means that more people will be exposed to mercury while mining it and while assembling the lamps (probably in places like China, where occupational health laws are fairly lax).

On the other hand though, CFLs, with a current energy production mix of sources, cause, even if broken, less mercury to be emitted into the atmosphere than the extra power required to light an equivalent incandescent would cause to be emitted during generation (coal is mostly to blame for this). They also cause far fewer greenhouse gasses to be emitted.

Also consider that in today's litigious world, no one wants to say "don't worry if you break a bulb, there's not really enough mercury to be dangerous in one" lest someone starts breaking bulbs with wild abandon and then suing the authority that told them they 'weren't dangerous'.

There's some interesting discussion on this topic here: http://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/297/how-dangerou...

Pity about the unhealthy color temperature.

People that support these things are not really all that clued in.

There are many levels of fail.

These things also are not supposed to be used covered by a bulb or upside down. (link I found the quickest http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/when-you-shoudnt-use-cfl-bul... )

I've seen local ordinances that in effect mandate the incorrect usage of CFLs. As such, a fixture at my mom's house results in a burned out (due to overheating) CFL about once every 6 months.

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