The EPA website offers tips on reducing mercury exposure, with one focus being on "How do you safely clean up a broken compact fluorescent light bulb?"
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has revised its guidelines for the mercury-containing bulbs, which are gaining in popularity as incandescents face a Congress-mandated phaseout beginning next year. A compact fluorescent light bulb uses far less energy than a conventional incandescent one, but it contains a small amount of mercury so it needs careful disposal.
CFLs, when they break, "some of the mercury is released as vapor and may pose potential health risks," the EPA said in announcing the guidelines. The agency said manufacturers are working to reduce mercury in CFLS, which average four milligrams per bulb compared with the 500 milligrams contained in an older thermometer.
Accompanying its revised tips, the EPA includes a report by an independent science committee that indicates the tiny amount of vaporized mercury from a single broken bulb is within the safe range for adults. The agency urges American to use CFLs, arguing their energy savings outweigh the potential health hazard, and to check the Earth911 website to find a local place for their proper disposal.
Another energy-efficient alternative to incandescents is the LED (light emitting diodes) bulb, which does not contain mercury and is dimmable. LEDs cost more, however, and are not yet as widely available.
EPA's website offers a brochure on how to reduce CFL mercury exposure. Here's a summary of its tips:
1. Before cleanup
Have people and pets leave the room. Air out 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 (H&AC) system, if you have one. Collect materials needed to clean up broken bulbs.
2. During cleanup
Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder. Place cleanup materials in a sealable container.
3. After cleanup
Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly. Avoid leaving any bulb fragments or cleanup materials indoors. For several hours, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the H&AC system shut off