Safety and Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs
Kim Hennessy, May 10, 2012
Safety Tip about use of compact fluorescent lights
Mercury is a heavy, slivery liquid-like chemical element also known as quicksilver. It’s the only metal that is in liquid form at standard temperature and pressure. Mercury is safely used in many products including CFL’s (compact fluorescent lights), batteries, thermostats, thermometers, switches and relays, antiques, jewelry, and paint; but, it can be extremely dangerous if handled and disposed of improperly.
When mercury is not disposed of properly it will begin to vaporize, leading to toxic fumes. CFLs are used extensively in all state buildings and many private businesses and homes.
While they last a long time, eventually they will either break or burn-out. There are specific procedures to safely handle and dispose of them. CFLs are extremely energy efficient and last between 8 to 10 times longer than a standard incandescent bulb.
While the amount of mercury in a CFL is very small (containing 1/100 the amount of mercury in a standard thermometer) CFLs must be disposed in a proper way to help minimize employee health and environmental exposures. Here are some basic safety and health tips to prevent exposures:
- Have people and pets leave the room.
- Ventilate the room for 5-10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoor environment.
- Shut off the central forced-air heating/air-conditioning system, if applicable.
- Gather equipment and materials needed to clean up the broken bulb: protective equipment like gloves, safety glasses and respiratory mask if needed; stiff paper or cardboard; sticky tape; damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes (for hard surfaces); and a glass jar with a metal lid or a sealable plastic bag.
- Do not vacuum! Vacuuming is not recommended unless broken glass remains after all other cleanup steps have been taken. Vacuuming could spread mercury-containing powder or mercury vapor throughout the space.
- Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder or liquid.
- Place cleanup materials in a sealable container.
- Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials outdoors in a container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly.
- Avoid leaving any bulb fragments or cleanup materials indoors.
- If practical, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the heating/air conditioning system shut off for several hours.
Dispose of properly!
- DO NOT place mercury or mercury-contaminated wastes in the regular trash. These wastes must be managed and disposed of as hazardous waste.
- In-state hazardous waste disposal companies can be found in the yellow pages or online, generally under a listing for "waste disposal – hazardous."
- There are out-of-state disposal companies that specialize in mercury waste disposal. Some of these companies offer pre-paid services that include the shipping container, return freight, mercury recycling and limited recordkeeping. A partial list of out-of-state companies can be reviewed at http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/hm/mercury/hgrecyclers.pdf.
For more information, contact Ed Smith at CDPHE Hazardous Waste Program, (303) 692-3386 or Sunny Bradford at the State Office of Risk Management, 303-866-3609.