Lighten Up In 2009

For Immediate Release: 
Friday, January 2, 2009

EWG Finds Government’s “Energy Star” Label Outdated, Calls for Overhaul

WASHINGTON –- An Environmental Working Group (EWG) investigation called “Lighten Up in ‘09” has identified seven compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb lines that trump the rest, with much lower levels of the toxic chemical mercury and lifespans of up to 18,000 hours – dramatically longer than the federal government’s outdated Energy Star standards.

The U.S. government, the lighting industry and environmentalists agree that CFL bulbs can be a prudent choice: each bulb uses about 75 percent less energy than its incandescent counterpart, lasts at least 10 times longer and prevents more than 450 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions from entering the atmosphere. One in four bulbs sold for household use in the U.S. is now a CFL, according to industry estimates.

But all CFLs contain mercury, a potent neurotoxin. CFL breakage can contaminate homes, businesses and landfills and pose a special danger to pregnant women, children and wildlife.

EWG has found that the government has granted its popular blue Energy Star seal of approval to a vast array of CFL bulbs, including a number of inferior models with unnecessarily high mercury levels and mediocre lifespans. The Energy Star program is a joint project of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“Energy Star labels can be found on the most efficient, safest bulbs available, as well as on some of the worst, misleading the consumer and giving manufacturers zero incentive to make a greener bulb,” said EWG Senior Analyst Sean Gray. “The Obama administration needs to reinvigorate the Energy Star program to drive innovation in safety and efficiency of home and business lighting.”

In light of the glaring loopholes in the Energy Star program, EWG has produced its Green Lighting Guide to help consumers identify which CFLs are truly less toxic and longer-lived than others.

Under Energy Star’s 2008 rules, product labels must disclose that the bulbs contain mercury – but not how much. EWG believes the consumers, particularly parents, have the right to know exactly how much of the neurotoxin is contained in every bulb on the market.

President-elect Obama has recently signaled that accelerating the switch from energy-hogging incandescents to CFLs or other efficient lighting choices will be a key feature of his administration’s energy strategy and economic stimulus plan. However, under the 2007 energy bill, low-efficiency incandescent bulbs won’t be out of the picture until 2020 – 12 years from now.

EWG calls on the incoming administration to restore the Energy Star program as a leader in spurring research and development aimed at producing even more efficient, less toxic products.

In addition to the Green Lighting Guide, EWG provides a helpful tip sheet explaining how to clean up a broken CFL bulb to minimize mercury exposure. As well, EWG has created an interactive calculator to offer estimates by state for pocketbook savings for consumers switching to CFLs.


EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.