How to Make Your Home a Hazardous Waste-Site for Less Than $5


As simple as dropping and breaking a CFL (compact fluorescent light bulb).  Just ask Brandy Bridges of Ellsworth, Maine.  After breaking a CFL in the process of rearranging her daughters room, she was forced to hire a environmental cleanup firm, which quoted her a price of over $2,000.00 to clean just one bedroom.

Why such an exaggerated response?  Every CFL (compact fluorescent light bulb) contains
approximately 5 milligrams of mercury, which is released as a vapor upon breaking.  This level of mercury vapor release exceeds the federal guidelines for chronic exposure by 100 times and easily exceeds all states, including California’s, exposure level standard.

Though CFL’s last 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs and use 75% less energy, they have some significant downfalls.  Cleanup of broken bulbs is a  hazardous process (which we detail below) and is not described on the bulbs packaging.  Legally CFL’s are  considered hazardous waste and need to be disposed of at a universal waste collection site or program.  Home Depot and Ikea have started a voluntary recycling program, but realistically many homeowners will dispose of expired CFL bulbs in their regular garbage, which then contaminates our local landfills.  It is estimated that up to 4 tons of mercury are currently being released into the environment from CFL’s and will continue to grow exponentially each year as states, local government and environmental groups continue to push the idea of converting to CFL’s as a method to save money and protect
the environment.

Steps for cleanup

  • Do not use a vacuum cleaner.  This will help spread the mercury vapors and dust and may contaminate your vacuum.
  • Keep adults, children and pets away until cleanup is complete.
  • Ventilate by opening a window and leave the room for at least 15 minutes to let the vapors settle.
  • Wear rubber gloves, mouth and face shields. Mercury can be easily absorbed through your skin and mucous membranes.
  • Remove large pieces and place them into a secure container such as a mason jar or a glass jar with a solid seal.
  • Use pieces of paper to collect the smaller pieces.
  • Then use the sticky side of duct tape to get the minute pieces.
  • Wipe areas with a wet paper towel to collect finer pieces.
  • Put all materials used for cleanup in glass containers as well.
  • Label all containers as “Universal Waste – broken lamp” and dispose of properly .
  • Continue to ventilate the room for several more hours.
  • Consider disposing of or at least wash the clothing you wear during the cleanup process in a separate wash.  Soles of your shoes can help distribute mercury throughout your home.
  • When a break occurs on carpet, it is recommended to remove throw rugs, cut and remove sections of exposed carpet as a precaution.  Particularly if the rug or carpet is frequented by children, infants or pregnant women.
  • Remove, dispose or wash separately all bedding, stuffed animals or any cloth or material items that could have been exposed to the mercury vapors.
  • Finally make sure to ventilate the room each time you vacuum for at least the next several times.

Even with these precautions, studies show that levels can still reach beyond acceptable levels and spike duringdisturbances in the area such as playing or vacuuming.  Mercury is a highly toxic heavy metal that can cause brain damage and learning disabilities in fetuses and children and is considered one of the most poisonous forms of pollution.  Breathed as a vapor, it can cause tremors, neurological effects, kidney failure, respiratory failure and possibly death.

If you decide to use CFL’s in your home, place a drop cloth on the floor when it is time to replace your bulbs.  Avoid using CFL in areas used extensively by infants and
children, such as bedrooms or carpeted areas where they like to play.  To reduce the possibility of breakage, refrain from storing too many used or spent lamps at one time.  And finally remember to recycle your used fluorescent bulbs at a designated recycling facility, so they do not end up in our landfills and poison our environment.

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