Is it true that Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL) contain mercury? What should I do if the CFL breaks?
Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFLs) contain a very small amount of mercury – about 5 milligrams, which is roughly equivalent to the tip of a ball-point pen. The mercury is what allows the bulbs to be an efficient light source. CFLs use 1/3 the energy of incandescent bulbs and last 10 times longer.
No mercury is released when the bulbs are in use so they are no threat to your family if used properly. Like all lightbulbs, CFLs can break if dropped or roughly handled. The Energy Star Web site says that if a CFL breaks you are at greater risk for being cut by the glass shards than the mercury exposure.
Follow these steps if a CFL breaks: Vacate the room for 10 minutes. Sweep, don't vacuum, all fragments. Place broken pieces in a sealed plastic bag and wipe the area with a damp paper towel to pick up any loose shards. Put the paper towel in the plastic bag as well. Dispose at the proper location for hazardous waste.
Do not dispose of your CFL in your household garbage if better disposal options exist. For those in Columbia, Missouri, the City of Columbia’s Household Hazardous Waste Facility collects all types of fluorescent bulbs. Located at 1313 Lakeview, one block west of the City power plant, the facility is open on the first and third Saturdays of the month, from April through November, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. To find other disposal centers, check http://www.earth911.org or call 1-877-EARTH911 for information.
If there is no center qualified for disposing of the CFL, place it in a plastic bag and seal it before putting it in the trash. Make sure your trash does not go to an incinerator as nothing with mercury should be incinerated.
Reference: Energy Star
Barbara Buffaloe, Architectural Studies, College of Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri-Columbia
Last update: Monday, May 18, 2009