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Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs Contain Mercury and Require Expensive Clean-up if Broken-Truth!
Summary of the eRumor: The eRumor tells the story of
a woman who accidentally dropped and broke an energy-efficient compact fluorescent
light bulb (CFL). After calling the store from which she bought it
and being referred to a state agency, she was told to call a
professional hazardous waste clean-up company, which told her it was
going to cost more than $2,000 to deal with the problem. The email
warns about the downside of the CFLs.
The Truth: We've checked with several
sources including the Environmental Protection agency and there is no
question that CFLs contain mercury, but the consensus is that the
consequences of breaking one do not need to be as expensive as depicted
in the eRumor.
The story told is that of Brandy Bridges from Prospect, Maine. She
did go through the steps described in the article but according to the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of
Environmental Protection, State of Maine, she did not have to.
Once you've called a professional environmental clean-up organization,
it is required to handle any hazardous substance according to the
dictates of state law, which could be expensive.
In all of the states that we checked, however, even though specific
steps should be taken to clean-up of a broken bulb, it is not required
that it be handled by expensive professionals. Also, although any
levels of mercury should cause concern, the amount of mercury released
by the bulbs is relatively small.
The Maine Bureau of Remediation & Waste Management gives the
following advice if a fluorescent bulb breaks in the home:
1. Never use a vacuum to clean up the breakage
because it may spread mercury dust in the air.
people and pets away from the scene of the break.
3. Ventilate the area.
4. If possible, reduce the temperature of the
5. Wear protective equipment such as rubber
gloves, safety glasses, a dust mask and old clothing.
6. Remove large pieces and place is secure,
closed or airtight plastic bag.
7. Collect smaller pieces and dust using a
disposable dustpan and broom.
8. Put all material into an airtight plastic
bag. Pat the breakage area with the sticky side of something like
duct tape. Wipe the area with a damp cloth or paper towels to pick
up the rest.
9. Put the debris and any materials used to
clean it up into a secure closed container and label it "Universal
Waste -Broken Lamp."
10. Take the container for recycling of universal waste.
The Bureau also recommends that before
replacing a fluorescent lamp, spread a drop cloth on the floor so any
accidental breakage can more easily be cleaned up.
How much mercury is in the average CFL? According to the EPA there
are about 4mg compared with 500mg in the average mercury thermometer and
3000mg in the average older thermostat.
A real example of the eRumor as it has
appeared on the Internet:
much money does it take to screw in a compact fluorescent lightbulb?
About $4.28 for the bulb and labor — unless you break the bulb. Then
you, like Brandy Bridges of Ellsworth, Maine, could be looking at a cost
of about $2,004.28, which doesn’t include the costs of frayed nerves
and risks to health.
crazy? Perhaps no more than the stampede to ban the incandescent light
bulb in favor of compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) — a move
already either adopted or being considered in California, Canada, the
European Union and Australia.
to an April 12 article in The Ellsworth American, Bridges had the
misfortune of breaking a CFL during installation in her daughter’s
bedroom: It dropped and shattered on the carpeted floor.
that CFLs contain potentially hazardous substances, Bridges called her
local Home Depot for advice. The store told her that the CFL contained
mercury and that she should call the Poison Control hotline, which in
turn directed her to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
DEP sent a specialist to Bridges’ house to test for mercury
contamination. The specialist found mercury levels in the bedroom in
excess of six times the state’s “safe” level for mercury
contamination of 300 billionths of a gram per cubic meter.
DEP specialist recommended that Bridges call an environmental cleanup
firm, which reportedly gave her a “low-ball” estimate of $2,000 to
clean up the room. The room then was sealed off with plastic and Bridges
began “gathering finances” to pay for the $2,000 cleaning.
Reportedly, her insurance company wouldn’t cover the cleanup costs
because mercury is a pollutant.