"The Cuban CFL crisis"… Rumours abound but where are the facts?
by Peter Adams, editor
Several years ago, so the story goes, a shipment of compact fluorescent
lamps (CFLs) landed in Cuba. Little is known about this particular
shipment, but the rumours are flying around.
Some say the lamps were made in China, and that's probably true,
although no-one can produce any hard evidence. Others say the lamps are
grossly sub-standard, and that they contain an inordinate amount of
mercury; but the source(s) are unable to vouch for this.
Vague reports are that the lamps are leftovers from the Cuban CFL
roll-out, or were rejected as being unfit for use in that country. Other
speculation is that the lamps were not intended for import into Cuba at
all, but were merely "staged" there before being forwarded to a place
where environmental and technical standards are not so vigorously
policed. But no-one knows for sure.
But there is one thing that most of the rumours agree on – if the lamps
have been sitting in some dockside storage area for any length of time,
they would probably have deteriorated quite significantly. The metal
connection caps or terminals would probably have corroded in the moist
salty air, and the electronics would probably show signs of
deterioration as well. Anyone trying to use such lamps would be in for a
nasty surprise. Those lamps that still worked – if any – wouldn't last
for long. They would probably be offered for sale at bargain-basement
prices to starry-eyed people who think they have upwards of 5000 hours
of lamp-life ahead of them. We hope that such optimism would be well
founded, but we would have deep misgivings.
Why is all this of interest to us here? Because another of the rumours
is that the shipment is being forwarded to South Africa, and that the
lamps will then be distributed to many unsuspecting domestic users in a
South African city. Some wide-eyed "information" bearers have even
ventured the names of the "Department of Energy" and "Tshwane
Municipality". And then quickly added: "But I don't really know, of course".
When this strictly hypothetical scenario is sketched in discerning
company, some questions usually arise. "How," someone wants to know,
"will such reputedly inferior and eco-damaging items be allowed to land
here? Do we not have carefully prepared and detailed compulsory
standards to prevent just such instances? Do we not have a highly paid
corps of civil servants whose job it is to protect our citizens from
such calumnies?" Dream on!
Those who follow developments in the local lighting sector then give a
knowing look and proceed to outline some related instances of dubious
decision-making in the recent past. They mention substandard
incandescent light bulbs offered for sale by hawkers at traffic lights
for about R1 each. They talk about fluorescent light fittings whose
sub-standard ballasts reach such high operating temperatures that fire
has become a very real risk for the user.
Everyone seems to have heard of some horror story that points to
inadequate control over imported or locally manufactured "cheap rubbish"
products that are a danger to life and limb – products that put people's
lives and property at risk, and that give the lighting industry a bad
name. Products that make users reject environmentally-benign
energy-saving technologies and prolong energy waste and environmental
Is there any truth behind the story of the Cuban CFL crisis? Will the
Cuban CFLs come to South Africa? Will they be stopped at the port of
entry? Or will we be a dumping ground? Some informed answers would be nice.
"The Cuban CFL crisis"… Rumours abound but where are the facts? – EE
Publishers – Serving the electrical, electronics, computer, information
& communications technology sectors (25 August 2009)