Hugo, Joe Kennedy and mercury in light bulbs: a follow-up

Our story today about Venezuelan refiner Citgo buying 460,000 compact fluoresent light bulbs for low income families in the U.S. has led to a spirited online debate (ok, maybe debate is too charitable a term) and a few phone calls.

joeseph_kennedy_here Joseph P. Kennedy II, Citizens Energy Chairman, greets Rixio Media, followed by the president and CEO of CITGO Alejandro Granado in Houston July 17, 2008.(Leonardo Carrizo / Chronicle)

From reader comments:

Watchdog1onU wrote: Obviously this is Venezuela trying to spread their influence inside our borders.

Phoenix26 wrote: Hugo Chavez hates America, the lightbulbs he is sending is not a gesture of good faith and to see it as such is being very naive on your part.

Ivory_Bill wrote: It is a sad day when a cheap tinpot dictator can make the USA and USA-owned businesses seem stingy and uncharitable.

Here’s Maria Bartiromo’s interview with Kennedy earlier this year where he answers some of the criticisms. Here’s Mona Charen’s opinion piece on his past deal with Citgo for free heating oil. Also here’s the Business and Media Institutes’ critique of how the media is so nice to Chavez.
One caller accused us of purposefully ignoring the issue of mercury in CFLs. While it’s certainly an underreported issue we were not studiously avoiding it. The Chronicle did run a lengthy AP piece on the issue in May, however, which included the following info about recycling options:
EPA’s Energy Star site on CFLs
Maine CFL breakage study
EPA’s recycling site locator
CFL recycling site locator
Osram Sylvania’s mail-in recycling site
Local CFL recycling options:
The City of Houston offers three recycling options for your used or broken compact fluorescent bulbs:
North Environmental Services Center
5614 Neches, Building C.
Open to residents every second Thursday of the month from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
South Environmental Services Center, 11500 S. Post Oak.
Open Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the second Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Westpark Consumer Recycling Center5900 Westpark.
Open Monday through Saturday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CFLs from businesses are not accepted.
Retailer IKEA offers CFL recycling at its stores elsewhere but not in Houston because the company can’t find a local contractor to do the recycling, according to our story.
How to clean up broken CFLs:

A broken compact fluorescent light bulb releases a mercury-containing powder, some of which can evaporate into the air, and is difficult to contain or clean up.
Mercury, a neurotoxin, is thought to have the biggest impact on the developing brains of fetuses, infants and young children through sustained exposure.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has written guidelines on how to clean up a broken bulb and the mercury.
In general, the area should be vented well by opening windows to reduce the mercury air concentrations; mercury should be carefully scooped up using paper or cardboard, or picked up using tape or a sticky material (do not use hands or vacuum); and the glass and mercury powder should be sealed in a glass jar or plastic bags.
The EPA’s full guidelines are here.

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