This Scientific Investigations Report examines the flow of mercury through the mercury-containing lamp sector of the U.S. economy in 2001 from lamp manufacture through disposal or recycling. Mercury-containing lamps illuminate commercial and industrial buildings, outdoor areas, and residences.
Mercury is an essential component in fluorescent lamps and high-intensity discharge lamps (high-pressure sodium, mercury-vapor, and metal halide). A typical fluorescent lamp is composed of a phosphor-coated glass tube with electrodes located at either end. Only a very small amount of the mercury is in vapor form. The remainder of the mercury is in the form of either liquid mercury metal or solid mercury oxide (mercury oxidizes over the life of the lamp). When voltage is applied, the electrodes energize the mercury vapor and cause it to emit ultraviolet energy. The phosphor coating absorbs the ultraviolet energy, which causes the phosphor to fluoresce and emit visible light. Mercury-containing lamps provide more lumens per watt than incandescent lamps and, as a result, require from three to four times less energy to operate.
Mercury is persistent and toxic within the environment. Mercury-containing lamps are of environmental concern because they are widely distributed throughout the environment and are easily broken in handling. The magnitude of lamp sector mercury emissions, estimated to be 2.9 metric tons per year (t/yr), is small compared with the estimated mercury losses of the U.S. coal-burning and chlor-alkali industries, which are about 70 t/yr and about 90 t/yr, respectively.
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USGS Numbered Series
Mercury Flow Through the Mercury-Containing Lamp Sector of the Economy of the United States