I broke one of those twisty lightbulbs. I read that this means my home is mercury contaminated. True?


I broke one of those twisty lightbulbs. I read that this means my home is mercury contaminated. True?


What kind of lightbulbs should I use? Actually I prefer full spectrum lighting.

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David Bergman's picture

Hurry! Evacuate the neighborhood and call a Hazmat team!

No, not really, though some of the light bulb "freedom-of-choice" ranters would have you believe so. (They're usuallythe same ones who keep misleadingly referring to the energy efficiency reg's as a ban on incandescent bulbs.)

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a huge fan of those twisty squirmy guys (I'm referring to the bulbs.), otherwise known as compact fluorescent lamps or CFLs.

And one ofthe reasons for my lack of fandom is that every fluorescent bulb contains a tiny but troublesome amount of mercury.

  • Ifthe bulb doesn't break and is properly recycled, that's not a problem.
  • If it does, well the EPA has some safe and sanerecommendations:

EPA's cleanup recommendations for a broken CFL

Before Cleanup

  • Have people and pets leave the room.
  • Air out the room for 5-10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoor environment.
  • Shut off the central forced air heating/air-conditioning system, if you have one.
  • Collect materials needed to clean up broken bulb:stiff paper or cardboard;sticky tape;damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes (for hard surfaces); anda glass jar with a metal lid or a sealable plastic bag.

During Cleanup

  • Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder.
  • Place cleanup materials in a sealable container.

After Cleanup

  • Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials outdoors in a trash container or protected areauntil materials can be disposed of properly. Avoid leaving any bulb fragments or cleanup materialsindoors.
  • If practical, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the heating/airconditioning system shut off for several hours.

That may still sound kind of scary, but it's not end of the world scary.

Choosing a better bulb

Now, as to what kind of bulb you should use, that question doesn't lend itself to a one-size-fits-allanswer. From an energy-efficiency point of view - and even from a mercury emissions point of view,provided you're looking at the larger picture - a CFL is preferable to an incandescent bulb.

There areother considerations, however, including:

  • What kind of light fixture the bulb is going in.
  • How often the light will be on.
  • Whether you need dimming.

I've gone into this in a previous post, and have looked at the full spectrum issue, too. (Wouldn'twant to waste electrons by getting repetitive.) And you can, btw, get full spectrum CFLs.

Here's an even shorter version of my advice, with a heavy dose of overgeneralization:

  • Mercury bad.
  • CFLs good.
  • LEDs better.