Compact fluorescent bulbs - Safe or unsafe?
Photo by: Nicholas Paul
I've been purchasing compact fluorescent light bulbs for a while now to help save energy, but I have recently heard that they are dangerous when they are broken. Is that true? How unsafe are they?
—Sarah S., Ann Arbor
As I tightened the replacement compact fluorescent (CFL) bulb in my bathroom light fixture, I turned to see my 10-year-old daughter walk in and ask, "Whatcha doing?" Slowly I turned to respond, knocking the remaining bulbs onto the floor. Glass fragments everywhere!
Remembering the claims about the dangers of CFL bulbs, I asked my daughter to leave the room, closed the door and went to my favorite digital encyclopedia, (Google), to find the truth about the risk with CFL bulbs. And I am glad I did!
The "Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007" requires certain light bulbs to be more energy efficient by 2012-2014. Studies show that CFL bulbs can last up to 10 times longer than their predecessor incandescent bulbs. Energy Star also rated bulbs that can use 75 percent less electricity. But does all that matter if there is a safety concern?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, CFL contains a small amount of mercury, an average of 4 milligrams (mg). The average amount of mercury in the old thermometers contained an approximate average of 500 mg — that’s equal to 125 CFL light bulbs.
Mercury is one of the most dangerous substances on earth. Although the amount of mercury is minor, if a CFL bulb breaks, you must clean up the area correctly to help avoid any heath issues. When the mercury escapes after a bulb is broken, it is released as mercury vapor. The EPA recommends the following after a CFL bulb is broken:
Cleanup and Disposal Overview
The most important steps to reduce exposure to mercury vapor from a broken bulb are:
1. Before cleanup:
a. Have people and pets leave the room.
b. Air out the room for 5-10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoor
c. Shut off the central forced air heating/air conditioning (H&AC) system.
d. Collect materials needed to clean up the broken bulb.
2. During cleanup
a. Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder.
b. Place cleanup materials in a sealable container.
3. After cleanup
a. Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials outdoors in a trash container or
protected area until materials can be disposed of properly. Avoid leaving any bulb
fragments or cleanup materials indoors.
b. For several hours, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the
heating and air conditioning system shut off.
Disposal location of the CFS can be found at the Environmental Health Division’s website to include Home Depot and Gross Electric in Ann Arbor.
There are CFL bulbs on the market, with manufacturers claiming they help protect us from the dangers of normal CFLs; these products have protective coatings to contain the debris, such as Armorlite, or shatter resistant bulbs. Be sure to check the prices as some are as much as 10 times the price of regular CFL.
As with most things in life, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Educate yourself and those around you, be prepared, and enjoy the lower electric bills.
Paul is a State of Michigan Licensed Builder. Paul serves as President and founding member of Nationally franchised HandyPro Handyman Service, servicing Washtenaw, Wayne and Oakland Counties. www.handypro.com. Listen to Paul every Saturday at 11 a.m. on “It’s Your Business, Make It Happen” WAAM Talk 1600AM. Email questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.