Seeing the light

Having broken a few compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) over the years, I must confess to never having followed the recommended cleanup procedure. Hmmm ... I wonder if my homes are toxic badlands now?

EPA recommends the following clean-up and disposal guidelines:
  1. Open a window and leave the room (restrict access) for at least 15 minutes.
  2. Remove all materials you can without using a vacuum cleaner.
    • Wear disposable rubber gloves, if available (do not use your bare hands).
    • Carefully scoop up the fragments and powder with stiff paper or cardboard.
    • Wipe the area clean with a damp paper towel or disposable wet wipe.
    • Sticky tape (such as duct tape) can be used to pick up small pieces and powder.
  3. Place all cleanup materials in a plastic bag and seal it.
    • If your state permits you to put used or broken CFLs in the garbage, seal the CFL in two plastic bags and put into the outside trash (if no other disposal or recycling options are available).
    • Wash your hands after disposing of the bag.
  4. The first time you vacuum the area where the bulb was broken, remove the vacuum bag once done cleaning the area (or empty and wipe the canister) and put the bag and/or vacuum debris, as well as the cleaning materials, in two sealed plastic bags in the outdoor trash or protected outdoor location for normal disposal.

The reason you don't want to vacuum is because you don't want to vaporize the mercury and fill the room with mercury vapour (which is more toxic). As well, you open the window to air out the room or any potential mercury vapour (which would be the case if the lamp was on when it broke).

You can get FAQs on CFLs here.

(I'll throw this in for free, fluorescent lamps are a source of UV light - better put on that sunscreen.)

Image nabbed from here.


Barbara said…
This is all just a little scary! It seems we are never safe.
Richard said…
It certainly makes a nice contrast to the "these are perfectly safe and not dangerous whatsoever" line about CFLs.

Mind you, everything is toxic and if you live long enough, you end up dying.

Organic mercury compounds are significantly more toxic.

There is a nice photo of a man floating in a bath of mercury here (scroll about a quarter page down).
Barbara said…
Very interesting reading. It does make you wonder about why it was only recently discovered that mercury was so toxic.
I don't think anyone has taken these precautions! wHAT ABOUT ALL THOSE BROKEN THERMOMETERS WE PLAYED WITH?

I know a brilliant guy from high school who designed/invented a way to detect mercury in landfill sites and sold his company to US for several million. He wasn't allowed to do anything with similar mercury inventions for 3 years. This guy was charged by police in Gr. 12 for hooking into the PA system from his locker and creating all kinds of havoc with the system tapping into it etc. Unreal! Funniest thing is, in Gr. 7, I was the top girl achiever and he was top boy out of about 450 kids! What a joke...I was/am no match for his brilliance and what he did in life! Mind you, I didn't do any jail time either!

Wish you could meet this guy and discuss ideas for inventions.
RennyBA said…
Sounds a bit scaring - I have had some of this bulbs, but happily they have not broken. Thanks for the tips!

Wishing you a lovely weekend and a great week ahead:-)
Ancilla said…
it seems that almost everything has both side of effects...
it may helps but also dangerous...

btw, the photo of floating man is nice. and i do like the photo of periodic table...
These light bulbs remind me of Dairy Queen soft serve or intestines! (my weird imagination working on a Sunday!)
b said…
I'm with Barbara...a little scary, indeed. But this is good to know. Thanks for passing it along!
Richard said…
barbara: I would hope that as our knowledge advances, we know more now than we did in the past. But, you know, lots of toxic behaviours were widely accepted (like smoking or drinking).

I just find the cleanup advisory and procedure make a stark contrast with the declarations of safety and benefits of CFLs.

Personally, I think the advisory is likely a little too extreme. Granted, there are undoubtedly some who are more sensitive to Hg than others, but I would suspect normal breakage and cleanup rates should not prove devastating to the average person.

MOI: I used to play with the mercury too. I used to look covetously at the mercury blob in our thermostat.

Thinking of it as a soft serve icecream is not weird, but creative.

rennyba: everything is toxic, but exercising reasonable caution should be fine.

ancilla: the site is a very nice one, with lots of interesting information. That picture is a classic.

breal: There is no question of it being at its most hazardous if the bulb breaks while the light was one (since the mercury vapour will be released – curiously, the few I have broken, all broke when lit and the lamp continued to glow despite the break. This would lead me to suspect the mercury vapour is quite dense and stays in the coils.

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