What to Do If You Break a Fluorescent Light Bulb

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Fluorescent light bulbs save energy and last longer than incandescent lights, making them a good way to help protect the environment and lower your electricity bills. Unfortunately, fluorescent lights contain a small amount of mercury. Mercury stays in your body for a long time, and can cause health problems if too much accumulates. Although breaking a single fluorescent bulb isn't going to hurt you, it's always a good idea to minimize mercury exposure.

Clear the Air

Open up one or more windows to air out the room. Leave the room, close the door and tell anyone else in your house to stay out of the room for 15 minutes. When the bulb shatters, it can send mercury vapor and dust contaminated by the metal up into the air. Airing out the room before you clean will minimize your exposure to these airborne pollutants. If you have a central heating or cooling system turned on, turn it off, since it can spread mercury dust.

Prepare to Clean

Find something to contain the pieces from the light bulb. A metal tin or glass jar with a lid will work well, since both can be sealed. If you can't find either, use a plastic bag. Keep in mind, however, that the glass shards can easily puncture a plastic bag. You will also need stiff paper or cardboard, tape, a wet cloth or paper towel, and if you broke the bulb on carpet, a vacuum cleaner.

Basic Cleanup

Use the cardboard or stiff paper to scoop up the big pieces of glass and as much of the powder as you can. If you broke the bulb on the carpet, pick the pieces up with your hands instead, taking care not to cut yourself. Put the pieces and the paper into your container.

Remove the Dust

Put a piece of tape on the floor, sticky-side down, on top of the spill. Pull it up and throw it away in a container. Repeat until you've cleaned up all of the dust. If you are cleaning up the carpet, work the tape down into the fibers to get up all of the little pieces of glass and dust. The dust is from the phosphor coating on the inside of the bulb. Although it is not mercury, it can contain traces of mercury, so clean it up thoroughly.

Final Steps

If you broke the bulb on the floor, use a wet paper towel or moist, disposable cloth to clean up any remaining traces of dust from the bulb. Throw it away in your container. If you broke the bulb on the rug, vacuum the area. Immediately empty out the vacuum bag when you are done. Otherwise, the vacuum cleaner can potentially spread dust contaminated with mercury back into the air.

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