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  • Home > Ways to Save > At Home > Lighting > Facts About Mercury from CFLs and Other Sources

    Facts About Mercury from CFLs and Other Sources

    Compact Fluorescent Bulbs (CFLs) provide significant energy savings over incandescent bulbs. However, CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury, which has the potential to be released into the environment if the bulb breaks, and as a result their safety has been questioned.

    The amount of mercury in a CFL is 5 milligrams or less. (By comparison, a mercury thermometer has 500 - 3,000 milligrams.) Because power plants emit mercury when they generate electricity, and CFLs use much less electricity than incandescent bulbs, by choosing a CFL bulb you are reducing the amount of mercury that is released into the environment, even though the bulb contains a small amount.

    Disposing of CFLs

    Like batteries, CFLs should be recycled at a hazardous waste facility rather than thrown into the trash. 

    Columbia County Transfer Station: In Columbia County, you can take them to the Columbia County Transfer Station in St. Helens on the last Saturday of each month.  Call Columbia County at (503) 397-7218 for more information.

    Home Depot: Used CFLs can be returned to any Home Depot store for recycling.

    What if a CFL breaks?

    Because a CFL contains such a small amount of mercury, your greatest risk if a bulb breaks is being injured by glass shards. A broken CFL poses no immediate health risk to you or your family if it is cleaned up properly. To minimize any risks, follow these clean-up and disposal guidelines recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency:

    1. Vent the room.

    Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more. Shut off your central heating and air condition system during this time, if you have one.

    2. Clean up the bulb

    On Hard Surfaces:

        • Scoop up the glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a glass jar with a metal lid or a sealed plastic bag.
        • Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small fragments and powder.
        • WIpe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes and place them in the glass jar or bag.
        • Take the sealed bag containing the debris and seal it in a second bag.
        • Take the sealed bag to a household hazardous waste facility for recycling or put it into the outside trash if there are no alternatives in your area.
        • Wash your hands.

    On Carpeting or a Rug:

        • Carefully pick up the glass fragments and place them in a glass jar with a metal lid or 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, remove the vacuum bag after vacuuming and put it in a sealed plastic bag for disposal.
        • Take the sealed bag containing the debris and seal it in a second bag.
        • Take the sealed bag to a household hazardous waste facility for recycling or put it into the outside trash if there are no alternatives in your area.
        • Wash your hands.

    Facts about mercury in the environment

    • Most Compact Fluorescent Lamps contain less than 5 milligrams of mercury.
    • 7,000 tons/year of mercury is released annually from natural sources, primarily from volcanoes. Forest fires are also a significant contributor. 
    • 6,000 tons/year of mercury is released from fossil-fuel power plant emissions, primarily from coal plants. 
    • 3,500 tons/year of mercury is released from such sources as automobiles, natural gas furnaces, and municipal waste incinerators. 
    • EPA’s highest estimate for lamp disposal mercury emissions is 2.5 tons/year
    • Fluorescent & HID lamps make up approximately 3.5 percent of total landfill mercury. Most of the “landfill mercury” comes from mercury switches.
    • 94 –98 percent of the mercury in a spent fluorescent lamp is absorbed into the phosphor coating and glass wall of the lamp making it unavailable for human consumption. Only a trace amount of mercury remains in the spent lamp as a vapor.
    • Installing CFLs reduces power plant generation causing a net reduction of mercury emissions to the environment, plus reductions in CO2 & other emissions.
    • A mercury thermometer contains 500 to 3,000 milligrams of mercury.