Dead CFLs and other hazards

As part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, signed into law on Dec. 19, 2007, the traditional incandescent light bulb will essentially be phased out of the U.S. market beginning in 2012.

Acceptable replacements include compact fluorescent lights (CFL). A CFL can save more than $30 in electricity costs over its life and uses 75 percent less energy than an incandescent bulb. It is also anticipated that light-emitting diode (LED) lights will be increasingly available to consumers as the 2012 deadline nears and will also meet or exceed the new standard, with even better potential for energy savings, long life and less pollution to the environment.


Though many have already made the move to CFLs, an important fact to note is that the CFLs, while energy-efficient, contain mercury, which is toxic. According to the Delaware Solid Waste Authority (DSWA), coal-fired power plants — the source of most of the electric power used in the U.S. — emit approximately 10 mg of mercury to produce the electricity to run an incandescent bulb, compared to only 2.4 mg of mercury emitted to run a CFL for the same time. Still, consumers must take precautions should they ever break one of these bulbs before the end of its long life.

Based on a study by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) the EPA changed its guidelines for dealing with broken CFLs effective Feb. 25, 2008 to include:

• Leaving the area/room and waiting 15 minutes after the breakage before returning to begin cleaning up (mercury levels in the air will have fallen from their highest levels by then);

• Using a glass container with a metal screw-top lid with a seal, such as a canning jar, to contain the lamp pieces, powder and cleanup materials;

• Immediately removing the lamp breakage from the home once containerized — especially if the homeowner did not have a glass container with a good seal;

• Continue ventilating the room for several hours;

• Suggesting that homeowners consider removal of the area of carpet where the breakage occurred as a precaution, particularly in homes with infants, small children or pregnant women;

• If carpet is not removed, the homeowner should consider ventilating the room during vacuuming for the next several vacuuming events;

• If consumers remained concerned regarding safety, they may consider not utilizing fluorescent lamps in situations where they could easily be broken, in bedrooms or over carpeted areas frequented by infants, small children or pregnant women; and

• Avoiding the storage of too many used/spent lamps before recycling, as that could increase the chances of breakage.

Pending the completion of a full review of the Maine study, the EPA plans to determine whether additional changes to the cleanup recommendations for CFLs are warranted. The agency plans to conduct its own study on CFLs after thorough review of the Maine study.

Some 45 experimental trials in which compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) were broken in a small/moderate-sized room were conducted in May through September of 2007. A total of 18 trials — three trials each of six differing scenarios — were originally planned for this study; however, additional trials were added to attempt to more fully address potential cleanup concerns.

Broken lamps were either not cleaned up, cleaned up using Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) pre-study cleanup guidance, vacuumed or cleaned up using variations of the pre-study cleanup guidance. The mercury concentrations at the 5-foot height (adult breathing zone) and 1-foot height (infant/toddler breathing zone) above the study room floor were continuously monitored. The most notable finding of the study was how variable the results can be, depending on the type of lamp, level of ventilation and cleanup method.

The pre-study cleanup guidance was generally found to be sound. However, as a result of this study, the cleanup guidance was modified to include the above steps.

When a CFL burns out:

Recycle it at a household hazardous waste event.

The Delaware Solid Waste Authority holds Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) events throughout the state. The next one is Sussex County is Saturday, May 3, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Jones Crossroads Landfill, 28560 Landfill Lane, in Georgetown.

According to the DSWA Web site, accepted materials at the HHW events include product containers marked with words, “Warning: Hazardous,” “Flammable,” “Poisonous,” “Corrosive” or “Explosive.” That includes materials in the following areas:

• House: Full aerosol cans, bleach, chemistry kits, nail polish, polish removers, perfumes, disinfectants, drain cleaners, floor wax, mercury thermometers, moth balls, oven cleaner, smoke detectors, spot remover, toilet cleaner;

• Home health care: Prescription medications, used syringes;

• Explosives: Ammunition, firecrackers, gunpowder;

• Workshop: Corrosives, paints (other than latex), small compressed-gas cylinders, solvents, stains, strippers, thinners, varnish, wood preservatives, fluorescent bulbs

• Garden/yard: Fungicides, herbicides, pesticides, pool chemicals;

• Automotive: Antifreeze, auto batteries, degreasers, waste fuels — gasoline, kerosene, used motor oil mixed with other fuels.

Those attending HHW events should not bring any of the following:

• Friable asbestos — Accepted by appointment only at Cherry Island Landfill, for a fee;

• Non-friable asbestos — Accepted by appointment at all DSWA landfills, for a fee.

• Unknown substances — Greater than 1 gallon or 8 pounds;

• Radioactive waste;

• Latex paint — water-soluble is not hazardous and can be taken to a landfill. Solidify with kitty litter or sand. Also check with a garbage hauler to see if they will accept in solid form;

• Containers with less than 1 inch of material — these can go in regular trash;

• Used motor oil.

For commercial businesses, fluorescent bulbs and CFLs are prohibited from being dropped off at DSWA’s facilities.