Socon or Bust is always happy to provide you with useful information to help you and your families live healthy and wholesome lifestyles. Today I bring you an important warning about compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs).
Most of you probably have at least one CFL at home. They are appealing because they use much less energy, thus protecting the environment and saving us money.
Most of you are probably aware that CFLs contain mercury. But I suspect that few of you are aware of the extraordinary health precautions you must take if ever a CFL breaks in your house. What you’re about to read might shock you so much that you’ll want to rid your home of all CFLs for the safety of your family.
Despite the soothing reassurances that the amount of mercury in a CFL is much less than in a thermometre or even a can of tuna, there appears to be something about CFLs that has governments issuing strong yet discrete warnings. Maybe it’s the fact that the mercury in the CFL is in gaseous form that makes it dangerous. I don’t know. But you can’t just casually clean it up. Get a load of these directives from Health Canada on what to do if a CFL breaks in your home:
Leave the room
Remove people and pets from the room and keep them out of the room during the clean-up process.
Avoid stepping on any broken glass.
Ventilate the room for at least 15 minutes prior to starting clean-up by opening windows and doors to the outdoors. This will ensure that mercury vapour levels are reduced before you start cleaning.
Clean-up Directions for Hard and Carpeted Surfaces
Do not use a vacuum to clean up the initial breakage, as it will spread the mercury vapour and dust throughout the area and may contaminate the vacuum.
Wear disposable gloves, if available, to avoid direct contact with mercury and to prevent cuts.
Scoop or sweep up the broken pieces and debris with two pieces of stiff paper or cardboard. Do not use a broom.
Use sticky tape, such as duct tape or masking tape, to pick up any remaining fine glass or powder.
Wipe the area with a damp paper towel, cloth or disposable wet wipe to remove any residual particles.
Place the broken glass and clean-up materials in a glass container with a tight fitting lid to further minimize the release of mercury vapour.
Carpeting – Steps to Take After the Initial Clean-up
If the rug is removable, take it outside, shake and air it out for as long as is practical.
The first time you vacuum on installed carpet after the clean-up, shut the door to the room or close off the area as much as possible and ventilate the room in which the lamp was broken by opening the windows and doors to the outside. When the vacuuming is done, remove the bag, wipe the vacuum with a damp paper towel, cloth or disposable wet wipe, and then place the vacuum bag and paper towel in a sealed plastic bag outside. In the case of a canister vacuum, wipe the canister out with a wet paper towel and dispose of the towel as outlined above. Continue to ventilate the room for 15 minutes once the vacuuming is completed.
Immediately place waste material outside of the building in a protected area away from children.
Dispose of the waste at a household hazardous waste location as soon as possible. Check with local, provincial, or territorial authorities about the requirements for recycling and for the location of household hazardous waste depots or pick-up.
Do not dispose of the waste in your household trash.
For further information on disposal, please contact Environment Canada.
Wash your hands after storing and disposing of waste.
Remove and install the CFL by handling only the base of the lamp to prevent any unnecessary pressure on the glass that may cause it to break.
Consider using a drop cloth when replacing a CFL to minimize the chance of breakage should the lamp fall or to protect the flooring and assist in clean-up should the bulb drop and break.
Store fluorescent lamps in containers that prevent them from breaking, such as in their original packaging.
Consider avoiding the use of CFLs in areas where the lamps may be easily broken. (Source)
Wow! Quite the undertaking! It gives a new meaning to the old joke about how many accountants it takes to change a lightbulb. Keep in mind these directives come from Health Canada, not some pro-pollution “big oil” company seeking to undermine energy conservancy efforts.
But there’s more to worry about. South of the border, in the US, the Environmental Protection Agency in Maine published some tests results about the amount of gas released when a CFL is broken. They found their results to be so alarming that hey felt the need to add extra precautions to the directives above. Here are some excerpts:
- Continue ventilating the room for several hours;
- Suggesting that homeowners consider removal of the area of carpet where the breakage occurred as a precaution, particularly in homes with infants, small children or pregnant women;
- If carpet is not removed, the homeowner should consider ventilating the room during vacuuming for the next several vacuuming events;
- Suggesting that homeowners consider not utilizing fluorescent lamps in situations where they could easily be broken, in bedrooms used by infants, small children, or pregnant women, or over carpets in rooms frequented by infants, small children and pregnant women;
Mercury concentration in the study room air often exceeds the Maine Ambient Air Guideline (MAAG) of 300 nanograms per cubic meter (ng/m3) for some period of time, with short excursions over 25,000 ng/m3, sometimes over 50,000 ng/m3, and possibly over 100,000 ng/m3 from the breakage of a single compact fluorescent lamp. A short period of venting can, in most cases, significantly reduce the mercury air concentrations after breakage. Concentrations can sometimes rebound when rooms are no longer vented, particularly with certain types of lamps and during/after vacuuming.
Although following the pre-study cleanup guidance produces visibly clean flooring surfaces for both wood and carpets (shag and short nap), all types of flooring surfaces tested can retain mercury sources even when visibly clean. Flooring surfaces, once visibly clean, can emit mercury immediately at the source that can be greater than 50,000 ng/m3.
A vacuum can become contaminated by mercury such that it cannot be easily decontaminated.
Vacuuming a carpet where a lamp has broken and been visibly cleaned up, even weeks after the cleanup, can elevate the mercury readings over the MAAG in an un-vented room. (Source)
Now it’s up to you to decide whether you want to continue using these things in your home.