Some Winnipeggers are stocking up on standard light bulbs after a federal ban went into effect on New Year's Day.

The ban, aimed at improving efficiency, means light bulb manufacturers can no longer supply the Canadian market with 75-watt and 100-watt incandescent bulbs.

Retailers, however, can sell whatever stock they have left.

How they work

  • Incandescents — work by heating a filament inside a tube until it is white hot and gives off light. But more than 90 per cent of the energy involved in that process escapes as heat.
  • Fluorescent bulbs — Use only a small amount of electricity to excite the gas (mercury vapour) inside the tube. The gas then gives off invisible ultraviolet light, which bounces off the phosphor coating inside the bulb to produce visible light.

The 40-watt and 60-watt incandescent bulbs have one more year before they are added to the banned list.

After that, the only option left will be compact fluorescent lamps (CFL bulbs) and light-emitting diodes (LED bulbs).

The ban is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than six million tonnes a year and save homeowners about $60 annually in electricity costs.

A store clerk who works in the electrical department at the Home Hardware in Selkirk, Man., said the old bulbs have been flying off the shelves.

In fact, the store is completely sold out of the 60-watt and 100-watt bulbs.

"[There's been] just a rush on them. I know folks who have their little basement closets right filled to the top of the old incandescent bulbs," the clerk said.

The clerk, who didn't want his name used, said customers don't like the colour of the new bulbs and say they can't be put into an enclosed fixture.

They also telling him the other bulbs are too expensive, even though they use a fraction of the electricity and last much longer.

Incandescent bulbs run at 60 cents apiece while the CFL bulbs cost about $2.50 to $4 apiece. The LEDs are about $20 per bulb.

Hazardous mercury

While many people complain about the glow from the CFLs and LEDs, the biggest knock is against the CFLs and the concern about mercury inside them.

Chronic exposure to mercury — a naturally occurring element and a known neurotoxin — can damage the brain, spinal cord, kidneys and liver.

"Mercury can impair the ability to feel, see, move and taste and can cause numbness and tunnel vision. Long-term exposure can lead to progressively worse symptoms and ultimately personality changes, stupor and in extreme cases, coma or death," according to Health Canada.

Further, Health Canada says recent research suggests that even at low levels, mercury can have adverse health impacts on the cardiovascular and immune system.

While no mercury is released when the bulbs are in use, taking precautions when throwing them out is important.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that three per cent of the total mercury in discarded fluorescent lamps is released to the atmosphere when they break during transportation to a disposal facility. Other researchers estimate emissions are as high as 17 per cent.

If a fluorescent bulb ends up in a landfill, the mercury can leech into the surrounding soil or be released into the atmosphere. If it is incinerated, the amount of mercury released into the atmosphere may be higher, according to Health Canada.

While fluorescent bulbs contain about five milligrams of mercury — less than in a watch battery, according to Natural Resources Canada — Health Canada recommends that items containing mercury be treated as hazardous waste.