What is the risk from mercury contained in these new compact fluorescent light bulbs (energy saving light bulbs)? How should these light bulbs be properly cleaned up and disposed of?
Compact fluorescent light bulbs are filled with neon or argon gas, a very small amount of mercury and coated with a fluorescent or phosphorescent powder. When activated by electricity, the gas combines with the powder to produce light visible to the human eye.
The amount of mercury in these bulbs is very small; about 1 to 5 mg, compared to 4 g contained in most mercury thermometers. Mercury thermometer spills require a very specific and correct clean up to prevent toxicity, which can be accessed here. The risk of poisoning from the mercury in compact fluorescent light bulbs is considered much lower than mercury thermometers.
What if the bulb blows or breaks?
If the bulb stops working ("blows") the mercury is contained within the bulb and poses no risk to health. If the bulb breaks altogether, the greatest risk is likely to be cuts from the glass or breathing difficulties from inhaling the powder. Even if inhaled or on the skin, this amount of mercury is not expected to cause poisoning in a one-off situation.
- Ventilate the area and have people and pets leave the area for 15 minutes
- Remove all jewellery - mercury may cause it to permanently discolour
- Use two pieces of card/paper to scoop together the debris, taking care to minimise spreading the powder
- Use a damp paper towel to pick up powder
- Dab the area with a sticky tape to pick up small amounts of powder remaining or broken glass
- Wrap all debris and cleaning material well and place in a sealed plastic bag and dispose in accordance with your council regulations
- It is now safe to vacuum the area (Ensure you throw the bag away (or wipe out the canister) immediately following the first use of the vacuum).
You should dispose of the residue in accordance with your local council regulations.