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You’ve broken a fluorescent lightbulb. Now what?

Photo: JKendall/iStockphoto

Use of compact fluorescent lightbulbs can save money, conserve energy, reduce waste and lower greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. However, CFLs contain mercury – a potent neurotoxin that, in small amounts, can cause serious health problems. At room temperature, mercury is a liquid and can readily evaporate into the air.

Chronic low-dose exposure can permanently damage the nervous system and ongoing exposure can cause tremors, anxiety and memory loss, CDPH says.

So, what should you do to minimize your exposure if a CFL breaks? EPA recommends following these steps:

Before cleanup:

  • Air out the room for five to 10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoor environment.
  • Shut off the central forced air heating/air conditioning system.
  • Collect materials needed to clean up the broken bulb: stiff paper or cardboard, sticky tape, damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes (for hard surfaces), and a glass jar with a metal lid or a sealable plastic bag.

During cleanup:

  • Don’t vacuum. Doing so could spread mercury‐containing powder or mercury vapor.
  • Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder.
  • Place materials in a sealable container.

After cleanup:

  • Place all bulb debris and cleanup materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area.
  • If allowed to do so (check with your local government), dispose of the materials with your trash.
  • Continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the heating/air conditioning system shut off for several hours, if possible.

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