How Many Haz-Mat Suits Do You Need to Change a Lightbulb?

Congress, in their wisdom, has mandated that the phase-out of incandescent light bulbs is to begin with the 100-watt bulb in 2012 and end in 2014 with the 40-watt. They use too much energy you see. The government is encouraging us to use eco-friendly green lighting such as Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) or LEDs (light emitting diodes).

HazmatThe U.S. Department of Energy has a “Change a Light Bulb Program” in which they encourage us to replace incandescent light bulbs with more-energy-efficient, but much more expensive compact fluorescent bulbs. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a similar program.

Compact fluorescent light bulbs contain mercury vapor which can be hazardous to our health. Therefore, the EPA recommends you take the following steps if you should break one in your home:

Before Cleanup

Have people and pets leave the room, and avoid the breakage area on the way out.

Open a window or door to the outdoors and leave the room for 5-10 minutes.

Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning (H&AC) system, if you have one.

Collect materials you will need to clean up the broken bulb:

Stiff paper or cardboard

Sticky tape (e.g., duct tape)

Damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes (for hard surfaces)

Glass jar with a metal lid (such as a canning jar) or a sealable plastic bag(s)

Cleanup Steps for Hard Surfaces

Carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place debris and paper/cardboard in a glass jar with a metal lid. If a glass jar is not available, use a sealable plastic bag. (NOTE: Since a plastic bag will not prevent the mercury vapor from escaping, remove the plastic bag(s) from the home after cleanup.)

Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder. Place the used tape in the glass jar or plastic bag.

Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place the towels in the glass jar or plastic bag.

Vacuuming of hard surfaces during cleanup is not recommended unless broken glass remains after all other cleanup steps have been taken. [NOTE: It is possible that vacuuming could spread mercury-containing powder or mercury vapor, although available information on this problem is limited.] If vacuuming is needed to ensure removal of all broken glass, keep the following tips in mind:

Keep a window or door to the outdoors open;

Vacuum the area where the bulb was broken using the vacuum hose, if available; and

Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister) and seal the bag/vacuum debris, and any materials used to clean the vacuum, in a plastic bag.

Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials, including vacuum cleaner bags, outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly.

Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your area. Some states and communities require fluorescent bulbs (broken or unbroken) be taken to a local recycling center.

Wash your hands with soap and water after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing bulb debris and cleanup materials.

Continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the H&AC system shut off, as practical, for several hours.

Cleanup Steps for Carpeting or Rugs

Carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place debris and paper/cardboard in a glass jar with a metal lid. If a glass jar is not available, use a sealable plastic bag. (NOTE: Since a plastic bag will not prevent the mercury vapor from escaping, remove the plastic bag(s) from the home after cleanup.)

Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder. Place the used tape in the glass jar or plastic bag.

Vacuuming of carpeting or rugs during cleanup is not recommended unless broken glass remains after all other cleanup steps have been taken. [NOTE: It is possible that vacuuming could spread mercury-containing powder or mercury vapor, although available information on this problem is limited.] If vacuuming is needed to ensure removal of all broken glass, keep the following tips in mind:

Keep a window or door to the outdoors open;

Vacuum the area where the bulb was broken using the vacuum hose, if available, and

Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister) and seal the bag/vacuum debris, and any materials used to clean the vacuum, in a plastic bag.

Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials, including vacuum cleaner bags, outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly.

Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your area. Some states and communities require fluorescent bulbs (broken or unbroken) be taken to a local recycling center.

Wash your hands with soap and water after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing bulb debris and cleanup materials.

Continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the H&AC system shut off, as practical, for several hours.

Future Cleaning of Carpeting or Rugs: Air Out the Room During and After Vacuuming

The next several times you vacuum the rug or carpet, shut off the H&AC system if you have one, close the doors to other rooms, and open a window or door to the outside before vacuuming. Change the vacuum bag after each use in this area.

After vacuuming is completed, keep the H&AC system shut off and the window or door to the outside open, as practical, for several hours.

Now isn’t that easy? Strangely enough, while DOE and EPA are encouraging Americans to use CFLs, they are discouraging school children in Southeast Asia from using CFLs. The EPA says, “Just as there are no safe uses of mercury and mercury-containing equipment in schools, there are no safe uses for these products in homes, either. Tell your parents about the toxic effects of mercury, and encourage them to remove all mercury products from your home.” (Source: see Section 3.4.2, page 17). It is not clear to me just why the EPA is concerned with school children in Southeast Asia.

The EPA’s current permissible exposure to elemental mercury via inhalation is 0.3 µg/m3. A broken bulb can put 200 to 800 µg/m3 into a room. If CFLs were not important to the EPA in its war on carbon dioxide, the EPA would probably ban them as unsafe.

Maybe we should skip CFLs and go to the more eco-friendly LED (light emitting diode) lights. They contain no mercury. But, according to a study of LEDs from the University of California, Irvine, LEDs ” contain lead, arsenic, and a dozen other potentially hazardous substances…”

Isn’t it ironic that the eco-friendly, green lighting systems are not only more expensive, but hazardous to our health. It’s time for the feds to stop micromanaging the type of lighting we use and give us back our old-fashioned, and much safer incandescent light bulbs.

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3 comments

  1. I do not like those light bulbs, anyone want to join me in candle making classes?  We have rooms in our house that can’t be aired out.  I wonder if you covered a burned out bulb with a plastic bag before removing it would work?  And, I guess I’m going to have to put all lamps inside play pens because my husband regularly knocks lamps over.   How can congress do this to us?  Everyone protest!!!!!!!!

  2. Some facts for would-be victims of this light bulb hysteria (especially those that haven’t read the full study from UC Irvine/Davis):

    Since LEDs don’t emit as much heat as other technologies, they are usually housed in plastics, which makes them virtually shatterproof. Furthermore, the researchers tested a small sample of holiday string-light LEDs, which aren’t the best quality and don’t reflect what you’d find in a typical residential LED light bulb. Only one red LED sample proved to contain dangerous levels of lead (according to California regulations), and to access that the researchers had to take apart the LED and grind up the components in a lab.

    Unless you’re freebasing LED light bulbs, I wouldn’t be concerned about the toxic metals inside. You’re more likely to get arsenic poisoning from maraschino cherries or apple seeds.

  3. repeal the ban! this is not the business of government to dictate what type of light bulbs are allowed. I recently had one of these CFLs shatter in my living room. Now I learn that these things spill mercury into the house when broken. heck, I was just worried about the broken glass in the carpet. Next they will require mercury tests of carpets probably before selling a house (like the asbestos test). Plus my house has a lot of special light fixtures with dimmers. those would all have to be replaced. I have a better idea. Replace government! Vote the bums out!

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