How To Clean Broken CFL Bulbs Safely (Prevent Mercury Poisoning)

November 15, 2021
How To Clean Broken CFL Bulbs Safely (Poison Control)

Mercury is a naturally occurring element.

Mercury can be found in small amounts in air, water, and soil. Mercury can exist in multiple forms including both organic and inorganic compounds. 

Two possible sources of exposure are the burning of coal and eating shell fish (source information: Environmental Protection Agency).

Fluorescent and compact fluorescent light bulbs commonly used in both commercial and industrial settings, contain mercury. 

Some commercial operations and gyms also use high intensity discharge bulbs (known as metal halide) which can also contain mercury.

These are sealed sources of the material and under normal use do not create an exposure situation.

Some Important Points:

  • Lighting manufacturers have significantly reduced the amount of mercury used over the years but a small amount is still required.
  • No mercury is released when fluorescent light bulbs are in use or intact; however, low level mercury exposures are possible once a bulb has broken.
  • An average fluorescent bulb contains about 5 milligrams of mercury depending on the bulb size and manufacturer. That is about 1/100th of the amount found in an older style thermometer.

Preventing exposure to mercury

  • One possible alternative to using mercury containing light bulbs are light-emitting diodes or LEDs which are energy-efficient and mercury-free.
  • Develop and implement a procedure for safe handling of intact bulbs and an established disposal process with your waste contractor.
  • Fluorescent light bulbs that are discarded in the trash can break and some of the mercury can be released into the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) strongly encourages the recycling of all mercury-containing bulbs after they burn out. Typically, this requires enclosed storage often this is done by placing the burned out bulbs back in their original packaging.

Procedures for when a bulb breaks: The following steps would apply to handling a broken bulb and not a Processing Area established for handling multiple broken bulbs. Contact your safety and health professional for guidance with any questions.

The EPA Recommended Cleanup and Disposal Methods

  • Contact your supervisor.
  • Have  Safety Data Sheet (SDS) on hand and review before starting work.
  • Have a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Hazard Assessment completed including respiratory protection. All required PPE should be used with proper training complete and documented.
  • Have a mercury spill kit avaliable:
  • Re-sealable zipper-type storage bags
  • Trash bags (6 mils thick)
  • Rubber, nitrile or latex gloves
  • Paper towels
  • Cardboard or squeegee
  • Eyedropper
  • Duct tape, or shaving cream and small paint brush
  • Flashlight
  • Powdered sulfur (optional)

Prior to Cleaning The Area

  • Air out the room for 15 minutes
  • Notify people to leave the room, don’t let anyone walk through the breakage area on their way out. Isolate and post the area to keep people out.
  • Open windows and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.
  • If there is a central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, shut it off to prevent cross contamination.
  • Put on a pair of glasses nd puncture resistant gloves.

Cleaning hard surfaces

  • Collect the glass pieces and powder using a dustpan and place them in a glass solid container with a lid.
  • Use sticky tape, (like duct tape), to collect any small pieces of glass fragments and powder. Do not use your bare fingers.
  • Damp wipe the area with paper towels, damp rag, or disposable wet wipes. Then place the items in a sealed container
  • Never use a broom or vacuum cleaner to up hard surfaces.

Cleaning Carpeting or Rug

  • Never use bare fingers. Use a tool to pick up broken fragments.
  • Place glass pieces and fragments in a jar or other container with lid (canning jar can be used)
  • Use sticky tape, (duct tape) to collect any remaining small fragments and any powder.
  • After all items have been removed and the area it visibly clean, HEPA vacuum the area as needed to minimize dusting.
  • Remove the vacuum bag and wipe the canister clean.
  • Place the vacuum bag in a sealed container and discard

Cleaning Clothes bed and Soft Goods

  • If clothing or bedding items are impacted directly by broken bulbs or glass that has mercury-containing powder, these items should be discarded.
  • Do not wash clothing or bedding because mercury fragments in the clothing may contaminate your machine
  • Shoes that has been impacted directly (come into direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powder), should be cleaned with a damp paper towel or a disposable wet wipes.
  • Then place the items in a glass jar or plastic bag for disposal.

Disposal And Clean-Up Materials

  • Check with local disposal organization. Some jurisdictions require that these items be taken to a recycle center.
  • Double bag (plastic) and label the waste container. Immediately place all clean-up materials outdoors in the designated trash container.
  • Ensure you wash your hands after disposing of the container with the clean-up materials.

Future cleaning of carpeting or rug:

  • Ventilate the room during and after vacuuming
  • The next several times you vacuum, use a HEPA vacuum and shut off the HVAC system.
  • Keep the HVAC system off and the window open for at least 15 minutes after vacuuming is completed.

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