If you read last week’s article, you learned about the mercury content in compact fluorescents and just how much of a threat it can be to your health. However, you were probably left with this question: If a CFL in your home breaks, what do you do? You don’t need to call a hazmat team, but you will need to follow these 4 tips for your safety:
1. Don’t Panic
First, don’t panic. As noted in the previous article, your exposure to mercury from a broken CFL is less than that in a tuna sandwich. Though the danger of mercury exposure is minimal, use common sense: Get everyone out of the room and make sure they don’t step on the glass.
2. Close Off the Room
Next, close off the room and open the windows to let any mercury vapors ventilate. It’s also a good idea to turn off your HVAC system to avoid circulating the vapors throughout your home. The room should be safe to re-enter after about 10 minutes*.
3. Collect the Debris
Upon returning to the room, collect the debris, including broken glass, powder, and plastic from the broken lamp. Do this by scooping up the broken pieces with a stiff piece of paper. Use the sticky side of a piece of duct tape to pick up any smaller pieces remaining on the floor or stuck in carpet fibers. However, do not use a vacuum cleaner, which could excite the mercury on the floor and release it into the air.
4. Recycle or Dispose
Finally, place all materials in a sealable container such as a jar or pack it within two zipper bags. Dispose of the CFL and its container according to laws in your area. Though most areas allow CFLs to be disposed of in the garbage, the best way to dispose of a CFL, broken or intact, is by recycling. The process is simple, inexpensive, and in some areas, it’s even free. To find a recycling location near you, go to Earth911.com. For added convenience, you may prefer a postage-paid CFL recycling kit from Veolia.
Have you ever had to clean up a broken CFL? Let us know and share your thoughts in the comments below, or visit us on Facebook, Twitter, or Google Plus!
*As recommended by the US EPA. Smaller or poorly ventilated rooms should be left unoccupied for a longer period of time.
Lighting topics don’t get much more exciting than the debate over the mercury content of compact fluorescents (CFLs). Those against the use of CFLs claim that the potential harm of toxic mercury contained within the energy-saving bulbs far outweighs any environmental benefits. On the other side, groups feel such rhetoric is overblown. But what are the facts?
Why Use Mercury in CFLs?
Mercury (Hg) is a naturally occurring element used in applications as varied as thermometers, dental fillings, and fluorescent lighting. The cathodes within a fluorescent tube produce electric current that passes through argon gas and mercury vapor. In turn, the mercury vapor emits ultraviolet light that excites the phosphor coating within the fluorescent tube, producing visible light . The technology is the same for both linear fluorescent tubes (like those seen in office buildings) and self-ballasted compact fluorescents (the “spiral” bulbs used in homes). In short, without mercury, fluorescent lights will not work.
How Much Mercury is in a CFL?
The amount of mercury contained within a CFL varies, and in general, has decreased since their introduction nearly two decades ago. As of November 2010, the US EPA’s Energy Star program concluded that the average amount of mercury within a screw-in CFL was 4 milligrams, comparable to the size of a ballpoint pen tip . This pales in comparison to older thermometers, which contain as much as 500 mg  and even amalgam dental fillings, which contain about 100 mg of mercury .
Mercury Content in Popular Items
Keep in mind, however, that the mercury contained in a CFL, thermometer, or dental filling can be present in these sources in two forms: A liquid, which is what we typically think of when we think of mercury, and a vapor that quickly dissipates. In the case of a broken CFL, the most likely form of exposure comes from inhaled mercury vapor. A paper in the August 2009 issue of the lighting journal LD+A found that the median amount of mercury vapor to which a person is exposed through a broken CFL is a tiny fraction of the total mercury contained within the bulb: Approximately 0.07 micrograms (0.0007 mg). On the other hand, a tuna fish sandwich, which contains the more hazardous methylmercury, is estimated to expose the consumer to more than 48 times that amount due to the more efficient method of consumption (literally eating the mercury) .
Who Regulates Mercury in CFLs?
Despite its relatively low concentration in CFLs, mercury is still a toxic substance. For this reason, the EPA requires that CFLs contain no more than 5 mg of mercury for consideration in their Energy Star program. The European Union and the State of California adopted even tougher regulations, requiring CFLs to contain no more than 2.5 mg of mercury by 2013 . Manufacturers, however, have made the biggest strides. A 60-watt equal, warm white Neolite CFL by Litetronics, for example, uses only 1 mg of mercury, 80% less than Energy Star requirements . Along with other major manufacturers, Sylvania voluntarily capped CFL mercury content at 4 mg, with the 13-watt DULUX EL 29409 containing only 1.5 mg .
So the question remains: Is the mercury in CFLs dangerous? It’s not an easy question to answer. Mercury is a toxic substance, yet it is unlikely that fluorescent lighting would ever expose a person to an amount of the neurotoxin sufficient to cause physiological harm. Want proof of that? Despite putting themselves in a worst-case scenario fluorescent lighting mishap, to the best of our knowledge, these two guys are still alive and well:
In the battle of dimmable CFL vs. CCFLs, you need to understand what each one is before you can choose your side in the battle. Most know that CFL stands for compact fluorescent lamp. A dimmable CFL is a special form of this bulb that allows the consumer to use a dimmer switch to reduce the amount of light coming out of the lamp. CCFL stands for cold cathode fluorescent lamp. This is a form of CFL. It uses a cathode that does not receive direct heating. Many people are looking at these two options for keeping energy costs even lower.
Dimmable CFL bulbs were the original solution people turned towards when the shift started away from traditional incandescent. But, they come with a major problem. Most people want to adjust their lighting from dark to light. A CFL needs to start at full power before you can adjust their light down. To accommodate this, you need dimming switches that can handle this warm up requirements. On the other hand, CCFLs work much the same as incandescent bulbs. They do not require a warm up before they are ready for dimming. You can use them with conventional dimming switches. This is an important aspect of the dimmable CFL vs. CCFLs debate.
When looking at the dimmable CFL vs. CCFLs, you need to keep a few things in mind. CCFLs offer some advantages that the dimmable CFLs do not. CCFLs have a longer life. They average four times the life of a typical dimmable CFL. They emit less heat as well. They come on instantly instead of taking a second to warm up enough to illuminate. They come with less flickering than a typical CFL does. They offer dimming with any dimming switch on the market and do not require special equipment. One of the major advantages is that manufacturers have been able to reduce the amount of mercury significantly in CCFLs in comparison to a dimmable CFL.
Before you make your decision in the dimmable CFL vs. CCFLs debate, you probably will look at price. A CCFL is typically more expensive than a dimmable CFL. However, with the longer working life, this brings the cost down significantly over time. They also come in many sizes and shapes not available in a CFL bulb. When making your decision, you should look at what works best for you. Save some money and see which lamp will fit your home best by shopping with us at 1000Bulbs.com.