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Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

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Guest DC Government Worker

CFLs contain about five milligrams of mercury (roughly equivalent to the tip of a ball-point pen) sealed within the glass tubing. By comparison, older home thermometers contain 500 milligrams of mercury, and many manual thermostats contain up to 3,000 milligrams. It would take between 100 and 600 CFLs to equal those amounts.


Mercury is an essential, irreplaceable element in CFLs and is what allows the bulb to be an efficient light source. Mercury is an element that, if breathed and absorbed by the body, can cause neurological damage.


The risks to you and your family from breaking a CFL are small. The amount of mercury in a CFL is very small, about five milligrams, or the size of the tip of a ball point pen. In comparison, older thermometers contain about 500 milligrams of mercury. It would take 100 CFLs to equal the amount of mercury in a single thermometer.


The mercury in a CFL is needed to help turn the electric current into white light you get from the bulb. Once turned on, a very small amount of the mercury in the CFL becomes a vapor. If a CFL bulb breaks, a small amount of the mercury vapor will be released in the air. Unlike the elemental mercury found in fever thermometers, which are the shiny beads of liquid mercury, you will probably not see any mercury with the unclothed eye if you break a CFL bulb. The white powder you see is from the phosphorus coating on the inside of the CFL.


So if you break a bulb, you’re at little risk for significant mercury exposure. It is important, though, to carefully clean up and dispose of a broken CFL to avoid spreading around the phosphorus powder, glass and any remaining mercury.


Here are U.S. EPA’s guidelines for cleaning up a broken CFL:


1. Open a window and leave the room (restrict access) for at least 15 minutes. If you have fans, place the fans in the windows and blow the air out of the room. Note: If the room has no windows, open all doors to the room and windows outside the room and use fans to move the air out of the room and to the open windows.


2. Remove all materials you can without using a vacuum cleaner.


3. Wear disposable rubber gloves, if available (do not use your bare hands).


4. Carefully scoop up the fragments and powder with stiff paper or cardboard.


5. Wipe the area clean with a damp paper towel or disposable wet wipe. Sticky tape (such as duct tape) can be used to pick up small pieces and powder.


6. Place all cleanup materials in a plastic bag and seal it, and then place in a second sealed plastic bag.


7. If no other disposal or recycling options are available, private residents may dispose of the CFL in residential garbage. Be sure to seal the CFL in two plastic bags and put into the outside trash.


8. Wash your hands after disposing of the bags.


9. The first time you vacuum the area where the bulb was broken, remove the vacuum bag once done cleaning the area (or empty and wipe the canister) and put the bag and/or vacuum debris, as well as the cleaning materials, in two sealed plastic bags in the outdoor trash or protected outdoor location for normal disposal.

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Guest Very_Sorry

Wow! My dad was right! Keep your kids away from this stuff!


My good-ole dad also had a vile of pure murcury just lying around the workshop. My sister and I used to roll it around in our hands until I managed to loose about half of it when the ball of metal unexpectedly seperated, turned into tiny balls and rolled out of my hand all over the shop floor. I really couldn't recover much of it at all. As I was about 13 when this happened, I just tried to hide it by sweeping the stuff into a basement corner. Pretty harsh huh? I wonder where it is 25+ years later???

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