Did You Know Broken Compact Fluorescent Bulbs Are Toxic?

by admin on August 12, 2008

This news came as a surprise to me, but is commonly known. Fluorescent light bulbs contain phosphor and mercury. If they are broken, special handling is necessary to prevent being poisoned by mercury or cut with glass coated with phosphor. Phosphor prevents blood clotting so any cut resulting from broken fluorescent bulbs needs to be cleaned and treated immediately. One source recommends rinsing the wound under water for several minutes to rinse any residue away; then bandaging immediately. If the cut is serious enough to need stitches, be sure to tell your medical practitioner about mercury exposure. I am not an expert. If it were me or my children, I would phone poison control to be safe. Mercury gas is toxic in small amounts. When mercury is heated, it becomes gaseous. It is normally contained within the glass bulb, but can become airborne upon breakage. If this should happen in your home, ventilate the area immediately; not with air conditioners or filters of any kind as mercury can be caught and built up in these devices; but simply open windows and doors for an extended period of time. Each region in the world has its own advice for how to treat the glass and powder (mixture of phosphor and mercury). Most are in agreement that gloves should be used, not plastic disposable gloves, but heavy work gloves; damp paper towels should be used to absorb any spilled powder and all materials used in the cleanup and any glass shards should be put in a sealed container. Be sure to remove all people and pets from the area of the break to avoid exposure. When you are finished cleaning up, make sure to wash your hands and face well.What happens after this is up to your particular city. Some have hazardous waste facilities in place and it is mandatory that you bring broken fluorescent bulbs and other hazardous waste to these facilities. Check with your local municipality for disposal rules.

Although many people throw out used bulbs; with the above in mind, we want to try to avoid breaking these bulbs. Sadly, many cities don’t have any special disposal instructions and these things are ending up in regular landfills to contaminate the surrounds with mercury.

I would like to summarize by saying that I am in no way a medical professional. I simply want to bring attention to the danger involved in the now ubiquitous compact fluorescent bulbs.

Are you interested in the latest news on eco products and practices? Check the All Things Eco Blog for this article and more like it.

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