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Don’t let reports of mercury in CFLs discourage you from using energy-efficient light bulbs. While it’s true that the bulbs do contain tiny amounts of mercury, it’s also important to remember that problems only arise when bulbs break at home (and elsewhere) or in a landfill.
Here’s how to responsibly and effectively deal with both issues.
- Air out the room. Open the windows and have everyone leave for 15 minutes. Be careful not to walk through the breakage on your way out. Close the door behind you. Turn off central air-conditioning/heating system if you have one.
- Carefully gather glass pieces and powder with cardboard or other stiff paper such as index or playing cards. Use duct tape, or other sticky tape, to pick up remaining small glass and powder. Place everything in a glass jar with a metal lid or a sealed plastic bag. You might want to use disposable rubber gloves if you have them.
- If you’re cleaning up a floor or other hard surface, use damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes to wipe the area. Never vacuum or sweep with a broom because you run the risk of increasing mercury exposure.
- The federal EPA says, if you’re dealing with a carpet or rug and have to vacuum the area where the bulb broke, you should remove the bag when you’re done and place it in a sealed plastic bag. Maine’s EPA suggests throwing out area rugs or removing parts of carpet as an added precaution. If you keep rugs, then good ventilation is essential the next several times you vacuum. Open windows and turn off you’re your central air-conditioning/heating system before and after vacuuming.
- Throw away any clothing or bedding that came into direct contact with broken glass or powder. Washing may contaminate your machine and pollute sewage. You can wash clothing that was in the room, but not in direct contact with the broken bulb. Wipe down shoes with damp towels or wet wipes and put them in a sealed jar or bag.
- Immediately place all your clean-up materials outside. Wash your hands and face thoroughly. Check with your local government to see how to dispose of broken bulbs. In some cases you can dispose of it with your normal trash pick-up, but recycling is preferable.