Press Releases

Marshall Challenges Article Distorting His Remark about Mercury

Delegate Lists Sources Easily Accessed on the Internet that Prove Accuracy of His Statement

RICHMOND, Feb. 16 – Delegate Bob Marshall is questioning a Richmond newspaper article accusing him of making a false claim about the danger of mercury contained in compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs).

“I’m truly puzzled by the reporter’s cavalier and cynical treatment of this topic,” Marshall (R., Manassas) said today in remarks during a session of the Virginia House of Delegates, here.

“This article flies in the face of well-established and readily available facts regarding the serious dangers of mercury contamination, especially to pregnant women, infants and small children.”

The article at issue was published Monday (Feb. 13) in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  It was prepared by Times-Dispatch reporter Sean Gorman for PolitiFact, a St. Petersburg, Fla., company purporting to research and determine whether statements by public officials are true or false.  It was edited by Warren Fiske, another member of the Times-Dispatch staff and PolitiFact’s Virginia editor.

The article challenges a statement Marshall made in testimony at a Feb. 2 hearing of the House Commerce and Labor Subcommittee in which he said a shattered CFL bulb creates “a hazardous materials situation in your home.”

“If [mercury] contaminates your shoes,” PolitiFact’s article quotes Marshall as saying, “you’re supposed to throw the shoes away.”

“This is acknowledged even by proponents of CFL bulbs,” Marshall said today.

Gorman’s PolitiFact article labels the statement “false.”

Marshall listed a number of expert sources readily available on the Internet that prove the accuracy of his statement.

“I recognize that some people consider it unwise to criticize a newspaper that buys ink by the barrel and paper by the ton,” Marshall said, “but the distortions in this article are so blatant and corrupting of the facts that it must be called to the attention of readers who might be misled by it.”

CFL bulbs contain highly toxic mercury and require careful handling to protect against hazardous contamination when they are shattered or are to be discarded as trash.

“This is acknowledged even by proponents of CFL bulbs,” Marshall said, citing an April 7, 2008, MSNBC.com report about the dangers of mercury in CFL bulbs.

“All CFLs contain mercury, a neurotoxin that can cause kidney and brain damage,” according to the MSNBC.com report.  “The amount is tiny — about 5 milligrams, or barely enough to cover the tip of a pen — but that is enough to contaminate up to 6,000 gallons of water beyond safe drinking levels, extrapolated from Stanford University research on mercury. Even the latest lamps promoted as “low-mercury” can contaminate more than 1,000 gallons of water beyond safe levels. [http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23694819/ns/us_news-environment/t/shining-light-hazards-fluorescent-bulbs/]

MSNBC.com is owned by General Electric, a manufacturer of CFL bulbs.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, in a Website warning entitled, “Fluorescent Lamps – Why Recycle Lamps?”, reports, “…it takes very little mercury to contaminate a water-body – some studies indicate that just 1 gram (or the quantity contained in 100 lamps) could contaminate a 20- acre water body! [http://www.deq.virginia.gov/p2/mercury/fluorescents/homepage.html]

Today, Marshall made available to fellow delegates a list of sources confirming his statement about discarding mercury-contaminated shoes.  He said he gave a similar list to Gorman, but the writer took some of the information out of context or changed its meaning by using only selected parts.  Other information he discarded completely.

“Many fact sheets dealing with mercury spills do not specifically speak to broken CFLs,” Marshall said, “but those that do indicate that you should open a window, close the door and let the room air out, and then not use a vacuum, broom or any other non-disposable item to clean up the broken bulb.

“It is reasonable to suppose that your clothing might become contaminated with mercury when you are cleaning up a broken CFL bulb, or that you might step on the pieces.  All the sources indicate that you should throw away contaminated clothing and not track mercury around your home.”

Several states’ Internet Websites contain warnings expressly advising that persons cleaning up small mercury spills – such as those from broken CFLs or thermometers – should wear shoe protection or dispose of shoes contaminated with mercury.  Some are:

New Jersey:  “Sources of Mercury in the Home: Some light bulbs, including fluorescent …   The small amount of mercury in a fever thermometer or fluorescent bulb is not likely to cause a problem but should still be cleaned up …Never walk around if you shoes might be contaminated with mercury…Remove your shoes and clothing and place in the trash bag.  Seal the bag with tape and discard in the regular household trash.”  [http://nj.gov/health/surv/documents/merchome.pdf]

Kentucky:  “Small spills … from a thermometer or less …When you are finished, place the container, any tools you used including gloves and contaminated shoes & clothing into a garbage bag-double bag it for good measure.” [ http://dep.ky.gov/Documents/MercurySpills.pdf ]

Wisconsin:  “DO NOT allow people whose shoes have contacted mercury to take their shoes beyond the spill area.  Further contamination of the building may result.  The shoes should be removed and protective foot coverings, such as Tyvek booties should be provided.”

[http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/eh/hlthhaz/fs/mercspill.htm]

New York:  “Put on old clothes, old shoes and latex or vinyl gloves.  Put a clean change of clothes and shoes along with a clean trash bag in a safe place outside the contaminated area.  … change out of your old clothes and shoes and put them in the trash bag at the end of the cleanup.”  [http://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/chemicals/hsees/mercury/cleaning_up_a_small_mercury_spill.htm]

Michigan: [pea size bead of mercury or less] “Don’t enter or allow any person to enter a contaminated area without shoe covers…Don’t leave a contaminated area wearing contaminated clothing … contaminated shoe covers…Bag the items that may have mercury on them, seal them and mark them ‘mercury hazard’.”  [http://www.in.gov/idem/files/mercury_spill.pdf]

Colorado:  [less than one tablespoon]  “Ensure that people’s shoes, clothing and other items to do not have any mercury on them before they are allowed to leave the area…Change into old clothes and shoes that can be discarded if they become contaminated or keep a supply o disposable protective clothing and shoe covers on hand… If you were wearing disposable coveralls and booties, carefully remove these items and place them in the trash bag.  Any … shoes that came in direct contact with the mercury should be placed in the trash bag.

Broken Fluorescent, Compact Fluorescent or Other Mercury-Containing Light Bulbs: … pick up any large pieces of glass from the broken bulb…and put it in a zip top bag.  Put the zip top bag in the trash bag used for contaminated clothing as described in the “General Instructions” section above.”  [http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/hm/hgcleanupbiz.pdf]

Minnesota:  “… immediately after a mercury spill: Remove your shoes and clothing.  Carefully place contaminated shoes and clothing into a trash bag.  Avoid touching anything that may have contacted mercury.  Seal the bag.  Cleanup of broken fluorescent and HID lamps:  Follow mercury cleanup instructions for the type of surface to be cleaned.  Label the container “Mercury Waste: Hazardous”  Put these items in your regular trash:  Shoes and clothing that are not visibly contaminated with mercury and items that have contacted mercury but are not visibly contaminated with mercury if your local household hazardous waste collection site won’t take them.”  [http://www.pca.state.mn.us/index.php/component/option,com_docman/task,doc_view/gid,12769]

New Hampshire: “Some other potential sources of household mercury are…fluorescent bulbs, compact fluorescent bulbs… Recommendations in the Event of a Spill … If possible, clean the shoes.  If not, wrap them in a plastic bag and dispose of them as indicated below.

Typical Cleanup Procedure for Small Mercury Spills on Smooth Hard Surfaces: Dispose of any contaminated clothes, fabric or footwear by placing them in a plastic bag for disposal.  Seal all containers at this time.  Store the containers in a safe place, away from children while awaiting disposal.  Take a shower or bath.”  [http://des.nh.gov/organization/commissioner/pip/factsheets/hw/documents/hw-15.pdf]

Delegate Bob Marshall’s contact information:

Capitol telephone: (804) 698-1013

Mobile telephone: (703) 853-4213

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