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September 5, 2008

Mercury Alert! What To Do When Your CFL Bulb Breaks

green light bulbs

Photo Credit: Kais Tolmats/IStock

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I've already told you how much I love Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs. Despite my enthusiasm, however, it’s important to know that CFLs do contain the harmful neurotoxin, mercury. While CFLs contain a very amount (4-5 mg per bulb, about the size of a ball point pen’s tip) of mercury, you should take a bulb-break seriously by following the Environmental Protection Agency's simple guidelines (paraphrased below and published on the EPA's website.

Bottom Line: mercury is scary. Here's what to do when your compact fluorescent bulb breaks?

1) Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.

2) Carefully scoop fragments and powder with stiff paper, cardboard, or rubber gloves—do not use your bare hands! Duct tape can be used to lift small pieces and powder. Place bits in a sealed plastic bag. Do not use a vacuum or broom. This will only spread toxins.

3) Wipe the area clean with damp paper towel. When done, place the sullied towel in the same plastic bag.

4) Place the first bag in a second sealed plastic bag.

5) Call your local sanitation department for your district’s non-hazardous disposal options. If it’s after hours, call 1-800-CLEAN-UP or visit earth911 and enter your zip in the top search engine. Please don’t just throw your bags in the trash. This is lazy and could put garbage collectors and unsuspecting trash-riflers in danger.

Yes mercury is menacing, but see there’s no need to get your bulbs in a twist (I’m sorry I had to). Should one break, evil will not disperse, whereupon only a priest can exorcise the carpet. You won’t need to call Ghostbusters or the National Guard either and you won’t have to spend thousands on clean-up . . . that is a myth.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA), individual CFLs don’t have enough mercury to, “pose a health threat” and contain less mercury than common household items like thermometers (500 mg) and older thermostats (3,000 mg).

The EPA also states that a power plant emits about 10 mg of mercury to produce the electricity needed to run one incandescent bulb. In comparison, a power plant emits only 2.4 mg of mercury to run a CFL bulb for the same amount of time. In other words, and quite ironically, compact fluorescents in fact decrease mercury use.

Olivia_Zaleski Olivia Zaleski is a green living expert.

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