Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Compact Flourescent Lightbulbs Potentially Hazardous When Broken

Can going green be hazardous to your health?
Energy efficient compact flourescent lightbulbs (CFL's) have mercury in them. The Environmental Protection Agency has put out specific procedures to be used when handling bulbs that have broken:

What to Do if a Fluorescent Light Bulb Breaks

Fluorescent light bulbs contain a very small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing. EPA recommends the following clean-up and disposal guidelines:

  1. Open a window and leave the room (restrict access) for at least 15 minutes.

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

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

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

    • 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.

  3. Place all cleanup materials in a plastic bag and seal it.

    • If your state permits you to put used or broken fluorescent light bulbs in the garbage, seal the bulb in two plastic bags and put into the outside trash (if no other disposal or recycling options are available).

    • Wash your hands after disposing of the bag.

  4. 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.

There are also concerns about them showing up in landfills... so one might be careful when disposing of them as well and here are the EPA guidelines for disposing of mercury containing lightbulbs.

NPR had a good piece about CFL's and their hazards. Aside from CFL's showing up in landfills, the article says that there are concerns that sanitation workers may be exposed to mercury if trash contains broken CFL bulbs.
the companies and federal government haven't come up with effective ways to get Americans to recycle them.

"The problem with the bulbs is that they'll break before they get to the landfill. They'll break in containers, or they'll break in a dumpster or they'll break in the trucks. Workers may be exposed to very high levels of mercury when that happens,"
In this recent article on MSNBC News - they state:
The amount [of mercury in a CFL bulb] is tiny — about 5 milligrams, or barely enough to cover the tip of a pen — but that is enough to contaminate up to 6,000 gallons of water beyond safe drinking levels, extrapolated from Stanford University research on mercury. Even the latest lamps promoted as “low-mercury” can contaminate more than 1,000 gallons of water beyond safe levels.
It will be interesting to see if mercury contamination of soil and water or in landfills rises in about 5-7 years when these CFL's start showing up in higher numbers in the trash and in our environment.

Sometimes technology gives us new problems as it attempts to solve current problems.
As for me, I'm sticking to incandescents and just being frugal with the light switch in general. I very rarely have to replace light bulbs in my house as it is.