to Clean Up a CFL (mercury) lightbulb:
lightbulbs can have anywhere between 2.5 mg and 4 mg of mercury in
them. This can be an intensely dangerous situation if they break
in your home, your trash, or in our landfills...this results in air and
water pollution and devastating health effects. Please read more
below to see how to clean them up if you break an existing one in your
home. You can also view more at my "More
About Mercury" page. This page discusses how to throw
them away without endangering anyone's health.
information is all directly from Safeminds News: Finding the Truth
August 2008 #1, an e-mail newsletter.
If you would like to receive the Safeminds FREE newsletter,
please visit their site at: http://www.safeminds.org
"Thanks" definitely goes to Safeminds for all their pioneering
work and efforts to get consumers informed about issues with mercury.
the Light; Mercury is NOT Green
Two - Cleaning Up . . . . Carefully!
The first step in fluorescent bulb safety is
planning to avoid breakage. Consider not using fluorescents in table and
floor lamps or children's play areas where they are more likely to be
broken. Also, consider not using them in bedrooms or other carpeted
areas where infants, small children or pregnant women may spend
significant time. Finally, consider whether the area could be adequately
ventilated in the event of breakage. Bulbs not in use should be stored
in a safe location with the same considerations. Do not allow too many
bulbs to accumulate before you recycle them. When changing a bulb, put
down a drop cloth to facilitate easier clean up in the event of a
What should you do if a fluorescent bulb breaks in
your home or workplace?
The official clean-up protocol is still a
"work in progress" as new studies provide more complete
information on the safety of various methods. The most thorough study to
date was published in February 2008 by the Maine Department of
Environmental Protection and is available on their Website at
www.state.me.us/dep/rwm/homeowner/cflreport.htm. The researchers broke
various types of CFLs in a controlled environment and took measurements
of the air concentrations of mercury at specific time intervals and
distances off the floor. They also tested various methods of containing
the hazardous clean-up materials until they could be properly recycled.
The following guidelines are derived from the
current recommendations by the State of Maine, the U.S. E.P.A, and
Health Care Without Harm - Europe as of August 1, 2008.
SafeMinds has provided the most stringent
recommendations of the three organizations due to the uncertainties of
not having multiple studies and the lack of sufficient data on mercury
toxicity in fetuses and young children. Our goal in furnishing these
guidelines is to err on the side of caution. Due to the ongoing state of
research in this area, these guidelines should be considered
informational only and not relied upon as final. These guidelines will
continue to change and evolve as additional data becomes available.
These guidelines only address small mercury clean
ups. In the event of a larger exposure, such as breaking a whole box of
fluorescent bulbs, we recommend shutting the door, turning off any
internal ventilation, opening any exterior doors and windows and
contacting your local health authorities.
Guidelines for a Small Mercury Clean-Up
Step 1: Evacuate and isolate
Remove all people and pets from the affected area
Do not let anyone walk through the breakage area on
the way out
Close any interior doors and turn off any internal
ventilation system/close vents
Open exterior doors and windows
Stay out of the area for at least 15 minutes before
continuing with clean up
Step 2: Protect yourself
Remove all jewelry from your hand and wrists as the
mercury may amalgamate with the metal if it contacts them
Change into old clothes and shoes that can be
discarded if they become contaminated
Put on rubber or latex gloves
Wear a protective facemask if you have one
Step 3A: To Clean a Hard Surface
Use a stiff card (like an index card) to remove any
glass fragments and powder residue or any visible beads of mercury
Place them in a glass jar with a metal screw-on
lid. If necessary, empty a food jar into another container to make it
available for use. A joint compound bucket with a push-on lid is also a
reasonably tight container. If a glass jar or compound bucket is not
available, you may use two layers of sealed plastic bags, but be aware
that these will not adequately contain the mercury vapors and should be
removed from the building for recycling as soon as possible.
Use sticky tape to pick up any remaining small
glass fragments or powder
Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or wet
Step 3B - To Clean a Carpet or Rug:
Carefully, pick up the glass fragments and place
them in a glass jar with a metal screw-on lid. If necessary, empty a
food jar into another container to make it available for use. A joint
compound bucket with a push-on lid is also a reasonably tight container.
If a glass jar or compound bucket is not available, you may use two
layers of sealed plastic bags, but be aware that these will not
adequately contain the mercury vapors and should be removed from the
building for recycling as soon as possible.
Use sticky tape to pick up any remaining small
glass fragments or powder
You can also use tweezers, an eyedropper or a
syringe (without a needle) to remove any small debris, but the tools
must be discarded with the breakage materials, as they will be
Since breakage on soft surfaces is difficult to
clean thoroughly, the safest choice is to remove the section of carpet
or discard the rug. This is essential if there is a young child or
pregnant woman who may use the space.
Please note that the current EPA clean-up protocol
allows the option of retaining the carpet or rug. Based on the data from
the Maine DEP study, SafeMinds does not believe a homeowner can
adequately clean carpet and rugs contaminated with mercury and
recommends removing them from the site.
Step 3C - Clothing, Bedding or Other Soft
It is nearly impossible to clean clothing, bedding,
or upholstery that has come in contact with mercury - these items should
Do not try to wash these items as this may
contaminate your washing machine and pollute sewage.
If these items have only come in contact with
mercury vapor (for example, the clothes that you wore to clean up),
these items should be washed - as long as they did not contact any of
the debris. (Please note that this recommendation by the EPA is going to
be further investigated in their follow up to the Maine DEP study).
Step 4 - Final Disposal and Follow Up:
Ensure that all clean-up materials including your
gloves are sealed in the jar or bags. Label the container(s) as
"Universal Waste- broken lamp - contains mercury"
If you think your shoes may have contacted the
debris during clean up, they should be discarded with the debris. Even
if you are sure that they have not directly contacted the mercury, wipe
them with a wet wipe or damp paper towel and dispose of the towels or
wipes along with the other contaminated debris.
Wash your hands and face
Keep the area ventilated to the outdoors for at
least 24 hours after clean up is complete
Recycle the waste properly - not in your household
Do not allow the waste to be stored in your home -
recycle it promptly - particularly if you had to use plastic bags for
Six Things You Should Never Do With Mercury
1. Never use a vacuum cleaner to clean up a mercury
spill. It will vaporize the mercury and spread it around your home. The
vacuum cleaner will be contaminated and may need to be discarded.
2. Never use a broom to clean up a mercury spill.
It breaks up the mercury and moves it around. You will also need to
discard the broom.
3. Never wash mercury down the drain. It can lodge
in your plumbing and contaminate septic tanks and the sludge in sewage
4. Never continue to wear footwear or clothing that
has had direct contact with mercury. This increases your exposure and
spreads the contamination.
5. Never burn or incinerate anything contaminated
with mercury. This puts the mercury into the atmosphere.
6. Never use household cleaning products to clean a
mercury spill, particularly products containing ammonia or chlorine.
These chemicals will react violently with mercury, releasing a toxic