Broken CFL Bulb? Get Cleanup Steps to Contain Hazardous Mercury

hazardous broken CFL bulb
What's the best way to clean up hazardous broken CFL lightbulbs?

Have a broken CFL bulb? Unlike incandescent bulbs, a CFL bulb contains mercury. Mercury is the only existing element that can make the UV wavelengths needed to for CFL bulbs to light up. You need to follow specific cleanup steps to contain any hazardous mercury from a broken CFL bulb. For your own safety, do not attempt to clean up the CFL bulb without proper protective gear. There are specific dos and don’ts of broken CFL bulb clean up. I’ll give you a list of them.

Cleanup Protocol for Broken CFL Bulb that has Shattered:

If you have a broken CFL bulb there is an 11 step protocol that you must follow to limit over contamination and risk the safety of your family. If you break a CFL bulb at home the EPA has a detailed set of procedures for you to follow.

Here is the list:

  • Air out the room for a quarter of an hour.
  • Wear gloves.
  • Use disposable paper towels to clean up the spillage.
  • Double-bag the refuse.
  • Use duct tape to lift the residue from a carpet.
  • Don’t use a vacuum cleaner, as that will only spread the problem. Unless you have a very fancy and funtional canister vacuum.
  • The next time you vacuum the area, immediately dispose of the vacuum bag.
  • Never use a broom to clean up mercury. It will break the mercury into smaller droplets and spread them.
  • Never pour mercury down a drain. It may lodge in the plumbing and cause future problems during plumbing repairs. If discharged, it can cause pollution of the septic tank or sewage treatment plant.
  • Never wash mercury-contaminated items in a washing machine. Mercury may contaminate the machine and/or pollute sewage.
  • Never walk around if your shoes might be contaminated with mercury. Contaminated clothing can also spread mercury around.

Disposing a Broken CFL Bulb (Not Working but Intact):

Mercury in CFL Fluorescent Light Bulbs
There’s mercury inside CFL light bulbs.

If you are living in the Midwest or California, chances are you don’t know that disposing of your broken CFL bulb in the waste basket is against the law. Illegal, you ask, how can that be possible? Consumers are well aware that CFL bulbs are much more energy efficient than the traditional incandescent bulbs, especially since we are bombarded regularly with advertising and news clips on how great this new technology is for our environment.

If you’ve recently installed a CFL bulb in one or more rooms of your house you no doubt have noticed that they take a while to heat up and tend to make a low buzzing noise. And if you are like me, you have even gotten a few duds that you’ve had to discard. No problem, right? Wrong.

CFL bulbs are made with mercury, a known neurotoxin that can cause a whole host of health problems. If you live in the Midwest like I do it is actually illegal to just throw them in the trash.

According to MSNBC’s Alex Johnson “(There) is enough (mercury) to contaminate 6,000 gallons of water beyond safe drinking levels, Stanford University environmental safety researchers found. Even the latest lamps promoted as “low-mercury” can contaminate more than 1,000 gallons of water beyond safe levels.”

Experts fear that a broken CFL bulb thrown into the trash will end up leaching into our soil and eventually our water supply. This is a real problem, especially given that most consumers are ignorant of the lethal contents of a broken CFL bulb. Even worse, the authorities in most places don’t know what consumers need to do with a broken CFL bulb that is intact but no longer lights up.

If you live in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, or California it is illegal for you to through your broken CFL bulb into the garbage. You must dispose of your broken CFL bulb at a qualified recycling center. Your best bet is to take them to IKEA, as it is the largest recycler in the nation for broken CFL bulbs and a convenient place to drop them off if you have one nearby and are a frequent shopper.

If you live in Illinois you can simply take your broken CFL bulb to Fluorecycle Inc. of Ingleside, Ill. This is a certified facility for handling any broken CFL bulb. You could also inquire at your local Walmart or Sam’s Club. In June of 2007 they offered a pilot program in which customers in four states were able to recycle their CFLs upon entry with the help of Waste Management’s “LampTracker” technology.

If you live in California, just go to California Integrated Waste Management Board (www.ciwmb.ca.gov) and enter your zip code for the nearest disposal center for a broken CFL bulb in your area. Some states offer pick ups or drop offs for broken CFL bulbs, but they are only annual or semi-annual events in most cases. If none of these options seem convenient enough for you, your best starting place is to contact the company that handles your weekly trash pick up. Your next step is to call your local government office. If we voice our disposal concerns more governments and companies will take the initiative to offer consumers better options for broken CFL bulbs.

And if the use of CFL bulbs really concern you, take heart, engineers are steadily working on improving the incandescent light bulb so that it will be even more efficient in the future. The CFL bulb may be only a temporary fix to the energy dilemma.

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1 Comment on Broken CFL Bulb? Get Cleanup Steps to Contain Hazardous Mercury

  1. Caryn,
    Thanks for sharing the light bulb article. I had no idea about the mercury and I just broke one the other day! Thanks….Jen Cafferty

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