Compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs, have grown increasingly popular as more and more consumers make environmentally conscious purchases. CFLs use less energy than traditional light bulbs, and, though they contain mercury, they actually reduce the total mercury emissions because of their energy savings.
Though CFLs reduce the demand for power, they can be dangerous if broken. When broken, CFLs can release mercury vapor into the air, and those vapors can threaten a handler’s health. While the Environmental Protection Agency notes that CFL manufacturers are working to reduce the amount of mercury in their products, it’s still best to exercise caution when a CFL breaks. The following are a few tips, courtesy of the EPA, on what to do when a CFL breaks in your home or office.
Prior to cleanup
When a CFL breaks, there are some important steps to take before you begin cleaning it up.
• Empty the room of people and pets. As mentioned, mercury vapors can be harmful to a person’s health, so reduce risk of physical harm by asking people to leave the room and take any pets with them.
• Air out the room. Let some fresh air into the room where the bulb broke. Open the windows or a door to the outdoors, and air the room out for 5 to 10 minutes.
• Turn off the air conditioning or heating system.
• Gather the materials for cleanup, which include stiff paper or cardboard, sticky tape, damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes and a glass jar with a metal lid that can be sealed. If you don’t have a jar on hand, a sealable plastic bag will work as well.
Once the room has been aired out and the materials for cleanup have been gathered, a few additional precautions are necessary to properly dispose of a broken CFL.
• Do not use the vacuum. Though it might be tempting to use the vacuum, it could also be risky. A vacuum could spread mercury-containing powder or mercury vapors, so only use one if there is still broken glass around after all other cleanup steps have been taken.
• Be thorough. When cleaning, be sure to pick up every piece of broken glass and sweep any visible powder.
• Discard cleanup materials. Once you have finished cleaning, discard the materials you used by placing them in a sealable container.
Once you have finished cleaning the room where the bulb broke, it’s time to discard the materials.
• When cleanup has ended, immediately discard bulb debris and the materials used during cleanup (including a vacuum bag if you used a vacuum). Place the materials in a trash can or in a protected area, especially if you have curious kids around the house, until they can be disposed of.
• Be sure you are legally disposing of the materials. Local governments typically have their own laws about discarding CFLs (broken or unbroken), with many mandating that such bulbs be taken to the local recycling center. Be sure to obey these laws.
• Keep airing out the room if possible. Though airing the room out for 5 to 10 minutes might be adequate, when possible, air the room out for several hours. In addition, if possible, keep the heating and cooling system off for a few hours after the bulb has broken.
CFLs save energy and can save homeowners substantial amounts of money on their monthly energy bill. However, when these bulbs break, let caution reign with regard to cleanup.