The city haze I experienced during a six-week working stay in China, along with a scratchy feeling in my lungs in the morning, were a good learning experience.
Most of the air pollution comes from coal-fired power plants. In Georgia, 62 percent of our electricity is still generated from coal as well.
It should be mentioned that Georgia Power is currently spending $6 billion on improvements to plant emissions. The diagrams on Georgia Power’s website show large reductions in sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury released into the air.
But clean air is everybody’s responsibility. Every time we leave unnecessary lights burning, we’re also burning coal. Those old incandescent 75-watt light bulbs belong into the 20th century, not in modern times.
Fluorescents are more efficient, but come with their own problems. If you have light fixtures with standard 4-feet (40-watt) tubes in the household, disposing of them is an unsolved question. If they are put in the trash, they release toxic mercury vapor when they break. At the latest, this will happen in the landfill.
Companies and institutions like Brenau University pay serious money to have them disposed of by specialty firms.
The spiral bulbs seen everywhere now come with a mercury hazard, plus the possibility of ultraviolet light escaping if their white inner lining is cracked. It was once thought that turning fluorescents on and off frequently increases their power draw.
Scientific American reports, though, that this amount is insignificant. What matters is the shortened life span from frequent on-off cycling. A rule of thumb is to turn lights off when leaving the room for more than 5 minutes.
LED bulbs are more promising. They are the lowest power users and put out very bright light. I’ve had poor results with direct imports from online sources. Their life span was shorter than that of old incandescent bulbs, at a higher price. But LEDs purchased locally in Hall County stores have performed well and seem to be more durable.
An easy way to contribute to cleaner air is to do with less lighting. Dusk-to-dawn sensors make outdoor lighting more efficient.
Inside a house or public building, another lesson I learned in China, hallways don’t really need to be brightly lit at all times. Low, basic lighting for safety goes a long way toward saving on power consumption, and reducing the air pollution that comes with it.
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.