"This lamp changes the rules of the game," declares Larry Wilton, president and CEO of Philips Lighting Company North America, referring to the firm's Alto(TM) low mercury fluorescent lamps. Philips has been manufacturing the lamps, which have distinctive green end caps and come in selected types and wattages, since 1995. At Lightfair in New York, Philips announced the availability of the product in more than 40 different types of T8 and T12 lamps, as well as compact fluorescent products. By the end of this year, the company estimates that over 80% of its entire fluorescent lamp production will be comprised of the low-mercury type.

Currently, fluorescent lamps cannot be manufactured without mercury. The technology employed by Philips places the mercury in precise amounts within a small capsule, and uses it in combination with a proprietary chemical buffering system and special phosphors within the tube. Paul Walitsky, Philips' manager of environmental affairs, says precision manufacturing is the key to achieving consistent results with the Alto lamp. "The reduction of mercury in the Alto lamps is approaching 80% compared to conventional manufacturing processes," he says. Philips is also purchasing mercury from various recycling companies, further decreasing the total amount of the contaminant in the environment.

Policy-wise, a major goal of the US Environmental Protection Agency is the total elimination of mercury from the food chain; its Toxic Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) test is the arbitrary method used to determine waste classification. All Alto lamps have passed the TCLP test, so end users can dispose of their fluorescent lamps without using the special disposal methods often associated with hazardous waste. Philips has in place a testing procedure based on actual production samples, obtained from distributors and tested at independent laboratories; these procedures, and the results, have been recognized by the EPA and different states. Says Walitsky, "End users can rely on the testing performed by Philips as meeting testing criteria established by different environmental agencies." In Canada, strict regulations are being proposed by the Ministry of Environment in Ontario, and other provinces are also reviewing current environmental regulations.

"Today, the name of the game is to use less mercury," Walitsky says. "That Philips passed the TCLP test assures users that the lamp is less hazardous, while at the same time the environment gains from a major source reduction of mercury." Philips is offering seminars regarding the environmental regulations affecting lamps and its Alto fluorescent lamps. Call Paul Walitsky at 908/563-3197 for more information.