Friday, December 3, 2010

Safety Tips To Prevent Mercury Contamination From Compact Flourescent Lights (CFL)

The following information is provided on the NY State website :

Mercury Content and Recycling
What is Mercury?
Mercury is an element found naturally in the environment. Human activities, such as burning coal for electricity and using mercury in manufacturing, increase the amount of mercury cycling through the air, water, and soil. According to the EPA, the main sources of mercury pollution are coal-burning power plants, about 40% of total emissions worldwide. American power plants pump 96,000 pounds of mercury into the air annually.

Where can mercury be found at home?
Mercury is used in products because of its excellent conductivity and high surface tension so it can be found almost anywhere!

Why is Mercury in Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFLs)?
Mercury is an essential part of a CFL, allowing it to be an efficient light source. Inside the fluorescent tube there are electrodes at both ends, a gas containing argon and mercury vapor. A stream of electrons flows between the electrodes at both ends of the tube. The electrons interact with mercury vapor atoms floating inside the tube. The mercury atoms become excited, and when they return to an unexcited state, they release photons of light in the ultraviolet region of the spectrum. These ultraviolet photons collide with the phosphor coating the inside of the tube, and the phosphor glows, creating white light.

CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury (an average of 4 to 5 milligrams of mercury) sealed in the glass tubing, which is about enough to cover the tip of a ballpoint pen.

How can I tell how much Mercury is in a CFL before I purchase one?
As of September 2008, all ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs are required to list their mercury content on the packaging. Avoid purchasing non-ENERGY STAR CFLs because this information is not required on their packaging.

Does Mercury escape into the atmosphere when using a CFL?
No mercury is released when CFLs remain intact (not broken) or while they are in use. The only time mercury from a CFL is emitted into the environment is when a CFL breaks. In fact, CFLs are typically manufactured using recycled materials. If CFLs are recycled properly the mercury can continue to remain in safe hands and be repurposed for safe and useful purposes.

Can I throw my burned out CFL in the garbage?
New York State households can currently dispose of CFLs as normal household waste. Businesses must follow a different set of regulations regarding the disposal of CFLs. However, NYSERDA and the EPA are encouraging New Yorkers to use and recycle them safely. Careful recycling of CFLs prevents the release of mercury into the environment and allows for the reuse of glass, metals and other materials that make up CFLs. NYSERDA recommends that consumers take advantage of available local recycling options for CFLs, and is working with CFL manufacturers and major U.S. retailers to expand recycling and disposal options.

Why should I recycle my old burned out or broken CFLs?
CFLs have a small amount of mercury in them and they need to be managed properly at the end of their useful lives. Last year alone, American’s purchased 400 million CFLs! It is important to properly recycle CFLs today so there is not a problem in the future.

What happens when my CFL is recycled?
A CFL is like a small computer with all the electronics inside the ballast. When a CFL reaches a recycler, all the components are separated. The glass and mercury are separated and actually resold to manufacturers.

How do I recycle my CFL?
There are several ways to recycle your CFL:
Check out for a participating CFL Collection Center near you. The retail stores and civic organizations listed are trained to take in, store, and ship CFLs to professional recyclers who will manage them correctly.

Take advantage of local recycling options through your municipal landfill or transfer station.

Many towns or counties have household hazardous waste collection days where CFLs can be dropped off for recycling. Visit the Department of Environmental Conservation and for more information.

Look for organizations that are creating products to recycle CFLs. The U.S. Post Office, Waste Management, IKEA, and other organizations are exploring or implementing CFL recycling programs.

What do I do if a CFL breaks in my house?
A broken CFL containing a small amount of mercury is not likely to present any excess risk to you or your family. However, proper clean-up methods should be followed. These simple clean-up instructions will ensure safe removal of broken CFLs:

Before clean-up, make sure you ventilate the room. Make sure that people and pets leave the room, and don't let anyone walk through the breakage area for 15 minutes. Be sure to open a window and shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one.

Clean-up on hard surfaces. Using stiff paper or cardboard, carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder and place them in a glass jar with a metal lid (such as a canning jar), or in a sealed plastic bag. Use sticky tape (such as duct tape) to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder. Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes and place them in the glass jar or plastic bag. DO NOT use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces. This will flick the particles all over the room.

Clean-up on carpets or rugs. Carefully pick up glass fragments and place them in a glass jar with a metal lid or in a sealed plastic bag. Use sticky tape (such as duct tape) to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder. If vacuuming is needed after all visible materials are removed, vacuum only the area where the bulb was broken. Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister), and put the bag or vacuum debris in a sealed plastic bag.

Disposal of clean-up materials. Immediately place all clean-up materials outside the building in a trash container or outdoor protected area for the next normal trash disposal day. Wash your hands after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing clean-up materials.

More information is available on the NY State website.

Khalid Rehman

1 comment:

VaporLok Products, LLC said...

As this blog post states, it is important for consumers to take the right steps in recycling CFLs and fluorescent lamps. The EPA estimates recycling rates of fluorescent lamps at only 20 to 25 percent, leaving the majority to be placed in dumpsters and eventually end up in landfills—where they may emit hazardous mercury vapor into the environment. The consumer recycling rate has been estimated to be even lower—possibly at less than 2 percent.

Mercury-containing waste that isn’t properly recycled poses a serious environmental and health concern. It is important to encourage recycling of mercury-containing products, such as CFLs. However, there is still much work to be done. Safe recycling facilities exist, but should be encouraged by new rules and regulations. New legislation should also ensure that used fluorescent lamps are packaged in configurations proven to effectively contain mercury vapor emitted from broken lamps. Read more here: