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CFL ‘s Lighting Issues – The Dangers of Mercury Containment

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Broken CFL and Mercury DangersMany people have heard of CFL or Compact Fluorescent Lighting but may not be aware of the downside and potential dangers associated with this type of lighting system and bulb offerings.

We could of course just tell you to avoid them completely and replace every CFL you have with the equivalent LED Light Bulb, but we won’t, even though eventually you will need to as the Australian Government has mandated and is actioning the phase out of CFL’s.

So to aid you in ensuring that you are protecting yourself and your family from the dangers that CFL’s contain, we have compiled the following information.

CFLs need to be handled with far more consideration than do conventional incandescent bulbs, if only because cleaning up a broken CFL is a more involved process. Consumers should therefore exercise caution regarding where and how they install CFLs in their homes; they should be careful to not break these bulbs as they install and remove them and avoid putting them in lamps likely to be sent crashing to the floor by someone knocking them from a side table or tripping over electrical cords, a far better alternative is LED

Most often you will hear claims made about CFL’s like

“CFL’s release dangerous amounts of highly toxic mercury when broken”

True: CFL’s contain mercury, a potentially dangerous substance.

True:  When broken CFL’s will release mercury into the immediate surroundings.

True: Broken CFL’s need to be handled with EXTREME CARE and very strict procedures need to be followed in removing a broken CFL and its contents from your environment.

False: One broken CFL is an environmental issue that needs to be dealt with by and environmental clean up crew.

Just like batteries and oils, CFL’s should be disposed of at a toxic waste site rather than being disposed of in your normal household trash. The reasoning behind this is that even though the small amounts of mercury in a CFL may not contain an immediate hazard, when NOT Broken, the mercury they do contain would become cumulative and a serious health risk when placed into landfill sites.

The Dangers Associated with Broken CFL’s

Broken CFL’s will release mercury vapor and phosphor powder into the air and surrounding areas and should be treated as a serious issue, although you do not need to call your local hazmat team to clean it up for you.

Here is what you need to know to safely remove and dispose of a broken CFL

Before Clean-up: Ventilate the Room

  1. Have people and pets leave the room, and don’t let anyone walk through the breakage area on their way out.
  2. Shut off any heating/air conditioning system.
  3. Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.

Clean-Up Steps for Hard Surfaces

  1. Find yourself a pair of disposable gloves to help you to carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a glass jar with metal lid or into a sealable plastic bag. Zip lock sandwich bags are a great and often easily accessible item around the home.
  2. Use sticky tape, such as packing tape, or gaffer tape to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.
  3. Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes and place them in the glass jar or plastic bag.
  4. Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces unless you intend to immediately dispose of these items also (see next section).

Clean-up Steps for Carpeting or Rug

  1. Find yourself a pair of disposable gloves to help you to  Carefully pick up glass fragments and place them in a glass jar with metal lid or into a sealable plastic bag. Zip lock sandwich bags are a great and often easily accessible item around the home.
  2. If vacuuming is needed after all visible materials are removed, vacuum the area where the bulb was broken.
  3. Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister), and put the bag or vacuum debris in a sealed plastic bag.

CFL DisposalDisposal of Clean-up Materials

  1. Immediately place all cleanup materials outside the building in a trash container or outdoor protected area for the next normal trash.
  2. Wash your hands after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing all the clean-up materials used like your disposable gloves, paper towel or wet wipes, sticky tape and other materials.
  3. Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your specific area. Some states prohibit such trash disposal and require that broken and unbroken mercury-containing bulbs be taken to a local recycling centre.

Future Cleaning of Carpeting or Rug: Ventilate the Room During and After Vacuuming

  1. The next several times you vacuum, shut off the heating/air conditioning system and open a window prior to vacuuming.
  2. Keep the  heating/air conditioning system shut off and the window open for at least 15 minutes after vacuuming is completed.

So there you have it!

Cleaning up broken CFL’s does not require you to call the local hazmat team but it does require you to take some very simple and straight forward steps when cleaning up and disposing of them.

Although once you begin the process of replacing your CFL’s for the equivalent LED bulbs you will never have to worry about broken CFLs and how to dispose of them again.

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  • Jacquie Harmond

    Funny how just when you need it the information you are looking for arrives.