Fluorescent light bulbs, with their distinctive curly shape, save energy and reduce pollution. However, each fluorescent light bulb contains about 5 milligrams of mercury. Though the amount is tiny, 5 milligrams of mercury is enough to contaminate 6,000 gallons of drinking water, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As long as the mercury is contained in the bulbs, it does not cause a problem, but these bulbs present several dangers if they are not cleaned up and disposed of properly.
If a curly fluorescent light bulb should break, mercury may be released, leading to certain health dangers for those who are exposed to it. Low level mercury exposure (under 5 milligrams) can cause tremors, mood shifts, sleeplessness, muscle fatigue, and headaches. High level or extended length exposure can lead to learning disabilities, altered personality, deafness, loss of memory, chromosomal damage, and nerve, brain, and kidney damage, as stated by the EPA. There is a particular risk to the nervous systems of unborn babies and young children.
The EPA claims that in this country alone, more than a billion curly light bulbs are thrown in the garbage every year. At some point these bulbs get broken. The mercury from these broken bulbs finds its way into the air, water, and soil. Mercury can seep into the water system or float through the air to land on surface waters, thereby contaminating the fish we eat and the water we drink. Scientists at Lenntec explain that many agricultural fertilizers contain mercury that is absorbed by the fruits and vegetable we eat. The food and water fed to farm animals also can be contaminated and then eaten by people.
Dangers to Animals
Farm animals and wildlife are affected by mercury, too. Mercury that finds its way into water sources can affect fish and other animals that drink the water. Studies performed by Lenntec show mercury exposure is linked to reproductive failure and DNA alterations in animals, as well as damage to kidneys, stomach, and intestines.
Bulb Clean Up and Disposal
To avoid many of the dangers caused by curly fluorescent light bulbs, it is important to dispose of the bulbs properly. Many states offer recycling programs for in-tact bulbs. Contact your local government or waste management company for more information. Should a fluorescent light bulb break, the EPA recommends that you open a window and leave the room for at least fifteen minutes. Turn off your central heating or air conditioning system. Do not use a broom or vacuum to clean up the spill, as this may release more mercury drops into the air. Carefully pick up the broken glass pieces and place them in a glass jar with a metal lid or in a sealed plastic bag. Use sticky tape to pick up very small fragments. Place these items in the jar or bag and seal it carefully. Contact your local government for specific guidelines on how to dispose of these clean-up materials.