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May 19, 2008

Compact fluorescent lamp bulb fire may lead to better labels

CUMBERLAND - The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is looking to the cause of a Bel Air house fire last month ignited by a compact fluorescent lamp bulb connected to a dimmer switch.

Randall Poth, an investigator with the commission based in Carroll County, said Friday he is aware that state fire marshals reported the bulb malfunctioned because it was used improperly. The packages and stickers of many CFLs include warnings against putting CFLs into such outlets.

"What I'm going to do (is) run out and buy one of these bulbs," Poth said. "There should be warning labels on the packaging (which are) noticeable."

He said a possible result could be that the energy-efficient bulb manufacturers are told to make such warnings stand out more, make the size of print larger and "make it more so people see it."

On local store shelves, all CFL brands carry warnings against connecting them to dimmer switches. But those warnings are in small print and at the bottom of a list of warnings, preceded by alerts they could cause interference to electronic devices and maritime communications systems.

Only after the maritime warning does the packaging warn that outdoor lights must be enclosed and not to use them with "emergency exit fixtures or lights, electronic timers, photocells or dimmers."

Philips brand CFLs also include warnings on the outside of the package while GE prints a warning on the bulb itself. On much of GE's packaging, the bulb can be seen without having to be opened.

Home owner Rick Jenkins was glad to hear of the commission's interest. He said he did have a globe over his outdoor CFL, where the fire originated. And he learned of his error after the fact. He says larger print on the bulb packaging, which states that CFLs can replace a standard bulb, is "misleading."

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