Mercury Hazards from Broken CFL (Compact Fluorescent Bulbs)

Did you know there are government protocols for hazardous clean-up of a broken CFL bulb? Many of us have switched to these energy-efficient bulbs over the past few years as options for incandescents have been reduced.

Along with saving energy, using CFLs comes with a down-side most people are not aware of. They release mercury vapor into the air when they break. The EPA recommends evacuating the room immediately, opening windows and turning off the HVAC system as a first step in the clean-up.

Just how much mercury is released? Studies have shown an average CFL bulb contains 3-5mg of mercury. The first hour after breaking it can emit from 200-800ug/m3 into the air. Children's exposure limit is just 0.2ug/m3. Workers' 8 hour exposure limit set by OSHA is 100ug/m3. 

So what can you do to keep your home safer? Consider other lighting options, especially if you have young children. Lamps can fall over and break the bulb, and bare bulbs can get broken from a ball throw or other play activities. There are safer alternatives that still save energy such as LED lighting. The LED white lights still have the potential to emit some lead, arsenic and nickel if broken but are considered less hazardous that CFLs. We have found some nice pricing on LED lights in the warm-light range of 2700k, that look good and can last up to 25 years! Check your local stores such as Costco for the best sources. Last week I found a 3-pack for $19.99. This is more costly than CFL but they last much longer too!

Here are some great resources to detail clean-up and safety precautions for CFL bulbs:

What to Do if a Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) Bulb or Fluorescent Tube Light Bulb Breaks in Your Home (PDF)

See this article for more details on CFL Dangers.