What If They Break?

By Ken Tucci, WBZ-TV

Not too long ago, there was a push to rid our homes of thermometers containing mercury. Now, we’re being pushed to use compact fluorescent lightbulbs that contain mercury. This seems a contradiction. I am uncomfortable using a lightbulb that requires me to take special measures to dispose. I’m concerned about having these in my home. What are homeowners supposed to do if one breaks?  – Joan, Haverhill

Clean it up…..very carefully.  And not with a vacuum.

David Wade and I did a story about just this about a year ago.   Here it is.

The instructions for cleaning up a broken CFL have many steps, and I’m with Joan, it makes me uncomfortable, too.   However, I have been changing over some of my lightbulbs (and hoping they don’t break).

The clearest cleanup instructions I found are on the Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection’s website.   You can see that here.

Knowing how to clean up a broken CFL is going to become more important very soon.  At the beginning of next year old fashioned incandescent bulbs will begin to be phased out, so we’ll be forced into CFL’s.   David and I did a story about that, too.  You can find it here.

It is ironic that some people who are very concerned about the environment champion CFL’s even though they contain tiny amounts of mercury, which is a neurotoxin.  The only optimistic thing I can say is that CFL’s are probably an interim kind of thing, bridging the gap between incandescents and the next generation of lighting which many people think will be LEDs.

Have you ever broken a CFL?  What did you do?

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  • Brad Buscher

    CFLs do contain a small amount of mercury and consumers should be careful when handling and disposing of them. However, CFLs are a better solution, both economically and environmentally, than incandescent bulbs, which ultimately result in greater mercury exposure than CFLs, because they consume more power and require more power generation. Since mercury is a byproduct of burning coal, coal-fired power plants are a larger source of mercury pollution than the mercury content in the CFLs. Although CFLs do contain a small amount of mercury, with a proven packaging configuration and proper disposal, CFLs can be used effectively without releasing harmful mercury vapor.

    While a variety of containers are marketed for transportation of fluorescent lamps and CFLs, many don’t provide sufficient protection against mercury vapor emitted from broken lamps. Using a proven packaging design is vital to ensuring the safety of people who handle these lamps, as well as maintaining their green benefits. Read about a recent study that tested several packaging configurations here: http://vaporlok.blogspot.com/2010/05/layers-of-protection-packaging-used.html If a bulb breaks, consumers can learn more about clean-up procedures here: http://www.epa.gov/cfl/cflcleanup-detailed.html

  • Michael.

    Are LED or “Light Emitting Diode”lightbulbs better than CFL’s or
    “Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs?”

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