Compact Fluorescent Lamps or CFL's have received much attention as an energy efficient alternative to incandescent lighting. Although these lamps are more energy efficient, increased use has caused concerns as people learn about their mercury hazards and what's involved in cleaning them up if they break.
It's no surprise that many people are becoming more, well, surprised about CFL's since they are touted as being clean, green, lighting machines. Even the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program ENERGY STAR touts these lights as safe and clean.
The problem? Well, CFL's contain a neurotoxin called mercury that gets released when the bulb breaks. Mercury exposure has adverse health effects. Since mercury vapor is essential to CFL operation, CFL's are considered a hazardous material when they break and cannot be thrown away.
Quite frankly I think it is unfair and confusing to consumers that we are told CFL's are safe by the marketing material at ENERGY STAR but then the EPA has a 12 step program for mercury clean up if they break, including evacuating the room and opening the windows!
Here's an example of what I mean. This FAQ from ENERGY STAR states near the bottom of page two:
"Mercury is an element found naturally in the environment."Great, sounds natural, like water.
However CFL's use mercury in a vapor form. The EPA website for Elemental Mercury Exposure, states:
"It is not uncommon for children to break fever thermometers in their mouths. Mercury that is swallowed in such cases poses low risk comparison to the risk of breathing mercury vapor."
Hey, I don't care if you think CFL's are great or not, I only care that you know the facts, not just the hype.
So that you understand what is involved in the safe clean up of these bulbs when they break, I'll outline the recommended clean up procedure as developed by the EPA.