The Entertainment Services and Technology Association (ESTA) is leading the fight against a series of laws that have been adopted or are on the table in several states designed to restrict the sales and use of mercury-containing products. According to ESTA, most of these laws, intended to help the environment, would effectively ban the use of HMI and other metal halide lamps without reducing the amount of mercury released into the environment. The organization has taken several steps to repeal this legislation, while at the same time promoting environmentally responsible lamp product stewardship in an attempt to protect both the lighting industry and the world at large.

The first such law to be passed, the Mercury Reduction and Education Act, which went into effect in Rhode Island in January 1 of this year, contains the several requirements which apply to metal halide lamps used in the entertainment industry. ESTA technical standards manager Karl Ruling, writing in the Winter issue of Protocol, the official magazine of the organization, breaks it down thusly:

1) A lamp manufacturer or distributor has to notify the Director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management in writing before promoting or offering metal halide lamps for sale or use in Rhode Island. The notification must include a brief description of the product, the amount of mercury in each unit of the product, an explanation of why the mercury is there, and the total amount of mercury contained in all the products made by the manufacturer.

2) The amount of mercury allowed in lamps is reduced in steps to less than 10 mg over a period of six years. This will have the effect of eliminating most metal halide lamps of 1kW or larger after January 1, 2006 and most smaller metal halide lamps after January 1, 2008. UV (black light) lamps will also be eliminated. There are exemptions from the mercury reduction requirements for products if such reductions are not possible. However, exemptions are granted for only two years at a time, which is not long enough for a manufacturer to justify developing or maintaining a product line or for a user to be able to buy a metal halide luminaire with any confidence that he will still be able to use it in three years.

3) By January 1, 2003, manufacturers have to provide user-friendly systems for the collection of their spent mercury-containing lamps. The system has to be documented and proof has to be available that every party in the system is ready and able to make it work. The system has to have the approval of the Director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.

As Ruling notes, “mercury is an essential part of all metal halide lamps used in entertainment lighting. It is a starting aid and voltage control mechanism, and also contributes to the visible light produced. While mercury-free metal halide lamps are under development, the experimental ones generally have poor color rendering and require very high starting voltages and special ballasts. Mercury-free substitutes for today's high-CRI, high-output metal halide lamps are unlikely to be realized anytime soon, if at all.

“Metal halide lamps are vital to the entertainment industry,” he continues. “They are the sources for most automated luminaires and for many studio luminaires and some stage lighting instruments. Metal halide lamps are used in automated luminaires because of their high output per watt consumed and their small light source size. They are used in stage and studio luminaires because of their high output and daylight-like color. No other source comes even close to metal halide for producing lots of lumens with a few watts."

Those who want to learn more about this issue should go to the ESTA website, where you can read the full text of Ruling’s article, plus a position paper on mercury legislation and entertainment lighting, lamp product stewardship program materials, the list of states in which anti-mercury legislation is being proposed, as well as sample letter to send to local legislators in affected states.

Entertainment Design and Lighting Dimensions will continue to follow ESTA’s efforts on this issue. As Ruling says: “Mercury is toxic. It is definitely something we want to keep out of our landfills, streams, and air. High doses can cause tremors, convulsions, and death. Mercury should be kept out of the environment, but legislating its elimination from lamps isn't a good way to do this. Eliminating mercury from lamps will have a severe effect on entertainment lighting and will have a net negative effect on the environment.”