Mercury in CFLs can be deadly …
Posted on: 17/06/2014 By: Alan Dawson
Remember the good old days when we used incandescent light bulbs? We could buy them from 100 watts right down to 25 watts. Well, it was way back in September 2009 when they started to disappear…
Love them or hate them, energy saving light bulbs are here to stay! But beware the toxic metal Mercury that lurks inside each and every one!
First to go was the 100 watt bulb until finally in 2012, new 40 and 25 watt bulbs could no longer be sold to the general public. So unless you have a stockpile of these bulbs you will now be using energy saving bulbs, which are in fact compact fluorescent lamps also known as CFLs.
The phasing out of incandescent light bulbs happened for many good reasons. Climate change is the biggest threat facing our planet today – it is happening and it’s happening now. Everyone from governments, businesses and individuals, needs to work together to tackle climate change by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.
By phasing out the traditional light bulbs, we will all be using less energy so will need less electricity. CFLs are up to 80% more efficient than incandescent lamps. Aren’t these good solid environmental reasons? Added to that, CFLs are also very cost effective.
Advice from the Energy Saving Trust suggests that CFLs will last up to 10 times longer than a traditional bulb, just one energy saving bulb could save you on average £3 a year and, depending on the length of time lights are in use every day, could save around £40 before it needs replacing. Fit all the lights in your house with energy saving bulbs and you could save around £55 a year and £600 over the lifetime of all of the bulbs. How great does that sound?
However, here’s the downside; and it’s a big one! Energy saving light bulbs contain Mercury which is needed to generate the light efficiently as it produces the ultraviolet part of the spectrum.
Mercury is a metal that’s liquid at room temperature. It looks like silvery-white beads or balls (globules). Liquid Mercury is sometimes called metallic or elemental Mercury. It evaporates easily into the air, even at room temperature, to form a Mercury vapour. The typical amount of mercury is 3 – 4mg and limited at 5mg per lamp.
“Mercury is highly toxic! The Mercury from a single fluorescent light tube can contaminate 30,000 litres of water!”
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) have previously stated that energy efficient light bulbs are not a danger to the public. Like many household products, they must be disposed of sensibly and there are suitable facilities available for this purpose.
Although they do contain Mercury – limited at 5mg per lamp – it cannot escape from a lamp that is intact. In any case, DEFRA claim that the very small amount contained in an energy efficient bulb is unlikely to cause harm even if the lamp should be broken. Hmm, the asbestos saga comes to mind, doesn’t it?
DEFRA also states that it is unlikely to cause any health problems. However, you should avoid contact with Mercury at all times and take extra care when cleaning it up, especially if you have small children or pets that could be crawling on the floor. Unlikely to cause any health problems? But just in case, avoid contact? Very reassuring DEFRA, thanks!
It is though, highly unlikely that you will break a CFL when changing a bulb, but should you accidentally break one, what should you do? These cleanup tips have been taken from the NHS Choice’s website:
- Ventilate the room by opening doors and windows.
- Go out of the room while it’s being ventilated, making sure children and pets are kept out.
- Wear rubber or plastic gloves and change into some old clothes before cleaning up the Mercury beads and broken glass.
- Pick up the pieces of glass carefully and put them in a plastic bag or container.
- Collect up the spilled Mercury beads using a thin piece of card or a strip of masking tape. You can also use an empty plastic bottle to suck them up, such as an empty washing-up liquid bottle.
- Mercury beads reflect light, so you can use a torch to look for any beads that are difficult to spot.
- Put the card (or bottle) and the Mercury beads into the plastic bag.
- Wipe the area with a damp cloth. Put the cloth in the same bag and seal it.
- Leave the room to ventilate for at least 24 hours after cleaning up the spill.
Local councils provide facilities where you can dispose of the hazardous waste, such as local tips and recycling centres.
Mercury spills on absorbent surfaces, such as carpets and upholstery, can be difficult to clean up. In these cases it is advisable to get in contact with your Local Authority Environmental Health Department. The affected areas may need to be removed and disposed of.
What not to do when cleaning up a Mercury spill:
- Don’t put the sealed bag in your household bin, because Mercury is classed as hazardous waste and a danger to the environment!
- Don’t touch the Mercury with your bare hands.
- Don’t use a vacuum cleaner as domestic vacuum cleaners have inadequate filters and will spread any Mercury throughout the house.
- Try not to create dust, but if there is any dust, avoid breathing it in.
- Don’t put the Mercury down the sink or the drain.
- Don’t sweep the Mercury up with a brush.
- Don’t wash clothes with Mercury on them in a washing machine – dispose of them in a sealed bag.
This blog is not meant to be alarmist in anyway but you need to know what you’re dealing with as Mercury is a danger to the environment and to your health. We just want to ensure that you are aware of some of the hazards, and can take the necessary action safely. Remember though, should you break a CFL, keep children and pets out of the room!
If you’d like to talk about anything I’ve mentioned here, call me on +44 (0) 1908 632418 or click here to ping over an email and we’ll get back to you.
Until next time