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Dear Planet Green,
Recently, a CFL bulb shattered into pieces in my tiny living space. After sweeping away the pieces, I could have sworn I tasted a metallic-like flavor in my mouth the rest of the day. Am I a paranoid freak or do I have a legitimate concern?
Sincerely, CFL Fraidy Cat
The main concern with CFLs is that they contain mercury, a toxic metal, sealed within its glass tubing. Mercury could lead to sickness if you come in direct contact with enough of the substance. But if you didn't feel sick or aren't sick now, it's probably a good chance you are fine, especially since CFLs only contain a small amount of mercury; about 4-5 milligrams according to the EPA.
To stay safe in the future, however, it's a good idea to make sure you properly and carefully clean up a broken CFL to minimize the chance of any health effects. The EPA issued a number of instructionsn for cleaning up a broken CFL bulb after a CFL breakage report study was released.
Here's a quick list of the steps:
1. Pre-CFL Clean-Up
Ask children and pets to leave the breakage area, shut off any air heating or cooling systems, open a window for ventilation and then leave the area yourself. After 15 minutes or more, go back to clean-up.
2. CFL Clean-Up
For Hard Surfaces
Sweeping could spread around the mercury-containing power from the bulb into the air so avoid this. Instead, use a stiff piece of paper or cardboard to scoop up the broken glass pieces and powder into a glass jar or plastic bag, use a piece of tape to pick up any small remnants, and then wipe the area clean with a damp rag, placing the rag in the glass jar or plastic bag.
Take the same steps as you would for hard surfaces however, instead of using the damp rag, determine whether you need to vacuum the area. If so, make sure to remove the vacuum bag or canister and place the debris in sealed plastic bag.
For Clothing and Bedding
If the broken glass or powder comes in direct contact with your clothing or bedding, throw the fabric away. Otherwise, clothing or bedding that came in indirect contact (for example, the clothing you wore when you cleaned up) can simply be washed with your other clothes.
3. CFL Clean-Up Waste Disposal
Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements. Some states will ask you to throw out your clean-up materials in your regular trash; others will require that you take them to a local recycling center. Taking this extra step will help keep mercury pollutants out of our waste management systems and waterways.