As standard fluorescent bulbs and compact fluorescents become more popular among homeowners, it has become increasingly important to educate the public on proper fluorescent bulb disposal and cleanup.
All fluorescent bulbs contain a small amount of mercury, a naturally occurring heavy metal. Exposed mercury evaporates into the air and can easily be absorbed into your body through your lungs (and skin, should you happen to touch it). The amount of mercury found in a thermometer is enough to contaminate an average-sized room. Prolonged exposure to mercury and mercury vapor will result in a variety of poisoning symptoms.
If a fluorescent bulb breaks
Before you begin to clean up the mess, you should ventilate the room (open one or more windows) and evacuate all people and pets for at least 15 minutes. If you have a central air and heat unit, you should turn it off.
If the breakage occurred on a hard surface
Do not use a broom or vacuum. Carefully use cardboard or stiff paper to scoop up the glass and powder and transport it to a glass jar (with a metal lid) or a sealed plastic bag. You can use duct tape to pick up the remaining small glass fragments. Finally, use a damp paper towel to wipe the area clean and place them into the glass jar or plastic bag.
If the breakage took place on carpeting or a rug
Carefully pick up glass fragments and place them into a glass jar (with a metal lid) or sealed plastic bag. Use duct tape to pick up the remaining pieces and powder. Use a vacuum if necessary once you have removed as much as you can. Finally, remove the vacuum bag and place it into a sealed plastic bag.
Immediately place all of the breakage and materials used to clean up into a trash container for the normal trash pickup. Wash your hands thoroughly. Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements for your area. Some states prohibit such trash disposal and require that broken (and unbroken) mercury-containing bulbs be taken to a recycling center.
Note: Future cleaning of carpet or rugs should be done while the room is well ventilated the next several times you vacuum. You should also turn off your central air unit prior to vacuuming. Keep a window open and the central air unit turned off for at least 15 minutes after you have finished vacuuming.
When fluorescent bulbs burn out
One of the advantages of fluorescent bulbs is their long life, but they do eventually burn out. When this happens, is recommended that you use your local recycling options for disposal. You can find local recycling programs on the EPA’s website.
If your state permits you to place used or broken fluorescent bulbs into the garbage, seal the bulb or debris in two plastic bags before placing it into the trash or other protected container. Fluorescent bulbs should not be disposed of in an incinerator.