Mercury is a strong neurotoxin (nerve poison) that causes dangerous health problems when its vapor is inhaled. Symptoms of inhaled mercury include nerve and muscular disturbances such as tremors, twitching, weakness, changed nerve response and muscle wasting; impaired cognitive function; inability to sleep; headaches; changes in moods or behavior; changes in nerve response and sensations; kidney problems; respiratory failure; and possible death. Mercury is used in compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) in the interior coating of the bulb or as an invisible vapor inside the bulb. The amount used in CFLs is small, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cautions that until a broken CFL bulb is properly cleaned up, it continues to emit harmful vapor. (The EPA and other health organizations recommend following a mercury vapor cleanup protocol after breaking a CFL bulb.
Things You'll Need
- Cardboard or heavy paper
- Rubber gloves
- Sturdy adhesive tape, such as duct tape
- Wet wipes or damp paper towels
- Glass jar with a metal lid, or a zip-close plastic bag or a plastic bag and twist tie
- Vacuum cleaner (see "Warnings")
Open a door or window to ventilate the room for five to 10 minutes. All people and animals should immediately vacate the room, avoiding the area of the broken CFL bulb. Close interior doors that connect to the room. Turn off the heating and cooling system to avoid spreading the vapor and dust throughout the building. Expectant mothers and children should not be involved in the cleanup.
Scoop up pieces of broken glass and dust using the cardboard or heavy paper. Rubber gloves will help prevent cuts and keep mercury dust off of your hands. Discard the debris in the glass jar or plastic bag. Pick up any remaining fragments using the sticky side of the adhesive tape and discard the tape in the jar or plastic bag.
Wipe hard surfaces with a wet wipe or damp paper towels. Vacuuming is not recommended because it can spread the mercury vapor and dust, but it can be done if debris remains after following the above steps. In that case, use the vacuum hose to finish the cleanup. Dispose of the vacuum bag in a plastic bag, or wipe the inside of the vacuum canister, and dispose of the wipe or paper towel in the jar or a plastic bag.
Close the jar and any plastic bags. Take all waste outdoors. Consult local regulations regarding disposal of CFL bulbs. Some communities prohibit CFLs from being disposed of in normal trash collections.
Wash your hands using soap and water. Leave the window or outside door to the room open for three more hours to continue venting any remaining vapor, if possible.
Cleaning carpets and rugs in the week following a CFL bulb cleanup requires opening a door or window to ventilate the room, closing the doors to connecting rooms, turning off the heating and cooling system and disposing of the vacuum bag or wiping the vacuum canister after each cleaning. Leave the window open for several hours, if possible.
Tips & Warnings
- Do not use a vacuum to clean up a broken CFL bulb until the other steps have been tried.
- The cleanup steps above pertain only to mercury dust and vapor from CFL bulbs, not to liquid mercury spills.
- You may want to consider removing the rug or carpet where the breakage occurred, especially if you have young children who play on the floor. Consult your local health department for recommendations.
- California Department of Toxic Substances Control: Flourescent Lights
- International Society for Complexity, Information and Design: Neurotoxin
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Mercury
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: What to do if a Compact Fluorescent (CFL) Bulb or Fluorescent Tube Light Bulb Breaks in Your Home
- Michigan Department of Community Health: CFLs and Mercury
- Photo Credit Cfl fluorescent lightbulb on dark background image by Silverpics from Fotolia.com
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