Yesterday, as I was anxiously awaiting to find out if my car passed inspection, I heard two women discussing what to do when you break a compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL). While the benefits of these new bulbs are many, there is actually some mercury in the bulb, and as such, a broken bulb needs to be handled with care.
In the 2012 Farmers’ Almanac, we offer the following advice on how to safely clean up a broken CFL:
How much mercury? On average, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s web site, CFLs contain about “four milligrams of mercury sealed within the glass tubing. By comparison, older thermometers contain about 500 milligrams of mercury–an amount equal to the mercury in over 100 CFLs.” The manufacturers of these new energy-efficient light bulbs are working on reducing this amount even more. The lights do not release any mercury when they are being used and are intact, only when broken.
So why use them? The amount of mercury that can be released into the environment when these CFLs break or are improperly disposed of is so minimal compared to the amount of mercury that does not get released into the environment due to the lower demand for electricity. Most electricity comes from coal burning power plants, which release a great amount of mercury into the atmosphere.
Proper CFL Cleanup from the EPA:
1. Before cleanup:
- Have people and pets leave the room.
- Air out the room for 5—10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoor environment.
- Shut off the central forced air heating/air-conditioning system, if you have one.
- Collect materials needed to clean up broken bulb.
2. During cleanup:
- Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder.
- Place cleanup materials in a sealable container.
3. After cleanup:
- Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly.
- Avoid leaving any bulb fragments or cleanup materials indoors.
- For several hours, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the HVAC system shut off.
Disposal of CFLs
The EPA recommends recycling CFLs rather than throwing in the trash. Many states and local agencies have collection agencies where you can easily recycle them. For more information check out this site. Many Home Depots in both the U.S. and Canada also take old CFLs for recycling.
I hope one day soon we have an energy-friendly light bulb that’s more earth-friendly, but in the meantime, it seems these light bulbs do offer some positive benefits, but caution should be taken if you happen to break one. (Oh and yes, my car passed. I’m good for 2 more years.)