CFL Light Bulb Warning

Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs Contain Mercury and Require Expensive Clean-up if Broken-Truth! & Fiction!

Summary of 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.
    2.  Keep people and pets away from the scene of the break.
    3.  Ventilate the area.
    4.  If possible, reduce the temperature of the room.
    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.  

Updated 5/4/07