Mercury in fluorescent bulbs: protecting your family from exposure

By • Published: March 22nd, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

You’ve heard compact fluorescent light bulbs use less energy than traditional bulbs and will lower your electric bill. To help the environment and your wallet, you buy some and install them at home.

Do you know you’ve brought home a potent toxin? That’s right … fluorescent bulbs, including the corkscrew-shaped ones known as CFLs … contain small amounts of mercury, a poisonous metal that can cause temporary or long-term health problems.

There’s no danger unless a bulb breaks, releasing mercury vapor into the air and onto nearby surfaces.

So how do you stay safe? First, handle fluorescent bulbs and tubes carefully to avoid breakage. Stick with incandescent bulbs in lights that are easily bumped and prone to tipping over … such as table and floor lamps, unprotected fixtures or lights in kids’ playrooms.

If a bulb does break, evacuate people and pets from the room and open windows and outside doors for ventilation. Shut off heaters and air conditioning units to minimize the spread of mercury vapor.

After about 10 minutes have passed, use stiff paper, duct tape and damp paper towels to thoroughly remove all fragments and any powders or residue that spilled. Vacuum cleaners can spread mercury, so only use one if it’s needed to remove broken glass. Throw away the vacuum bag in a sealed plastic bag when finished.

Seal spilled materials in a jar or plastic bag. Put the container in a safe place outside, then wash your hands. Continue to ventilate your home.

To prevent mercury leakage into the environment, dispose of broken and whole CFLs and fluorescent tubes at a recycling center approved to handle these materials. For more info about mercury in fluorescent bulbs, visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s website at