Did you know that mercury, contained in Compact Fluorescent Bulbs, is more dangerous than lead or arsenic? Warnings about the dangers of CFL bulbs have been prevalent for many years now. When the mercury contained in CFL bulbs ends up in landfills, waterways, oceans and the ground it affects not only humans, but animals and the environment. The truly devastating consequences of this will mostly be seen by future generations, so it is important to understand the dangers now and take appropriate action to help mitigate further damage.
Something that isn’t so well advertised, however, is the immediate damage caused when a person is exposed to the the high levels of mercury when cleaning up a broken or damaged CFL bulb. Toxic mercury droplets spread by the broken bulb can cause migraines, disorientation, imbalances and other health problems when inhaled. Just by touching or inhaling the substance, people can also contract severe skin conditions, infections in cuts and other diseases.
Special precautions should therefore be taken when dealing with a broken lamp. We recommend taking the following precautions when dealing with the cleanup of a broken lamp:
1. Open all the windows and immediately vacate the room for at least 15 minutes, taking special care not to step on any shard of glass;
2. Avoid the use of a vacuum cleaner as it could spread toxic mercury droplets around the house;
3. Wearing rubber gloves and trying not to inhale dust from the broken bulb, sweep the debris into a dustpan. You will need to discard of the dustpan and brush used to do this as any further use will spread the mercury to other parts of the house;
4. To help pick up the smaller pieces of glass from soft furniture or carpet, sticky tape (duct tape or similar) can be used;
5. On hard surfaces wipe the area with a damp cloth and dispose of this in a sealed bag;
6. Place the remains in a sealable plastic bag, and then within another bag to minimise cuts from the glass, but do not put in your household bin. Alternatively, place in a sturdy box. You will need to place the bag/box in a municipal recycling bin for batteries and other hazardous materials, or a council dump which can safely dispose of the waste.
Keep in mind that just one CFL bulb can contain up to 5mG of mercury. This is enough to contaminate up to 30,000 litres of water when it goes to landfill. Professor John Buckeridge, Head of the School of Civil, Environmental and Chemical Engineering at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, says the public health effects of having millions of mercury-contained fluorescent tubes dumped in landfill will be ‘disastrous’, with possible severe environmental and health costs for both humans and animals.