A potent neurotoxin too dangerous for thermometers, but contained in every CFL Bulb.
"When a CFL breaks in your home, it releases mercury vapor."
For clean up, The EPA instructs:
- Seal off the room & turn off HVAC
- Don't Vacuum (mercury will spread)
- Follow 3 pages of detailed instructions
Is your home a safe haven for your children?
Energy-saving light bulbs (CFLs) are dangerous when broken, they release toxic mercury that can cause serious health problems.
Hoax or Fact:
The messages raise concerns about using the energy efficient CFL lamps, that they contain potent neurotoxin mercury, and when broken release the mercury vapor that can cause serious health problems, especially to children, unborn babies and pets. The story is partially fact.
Mercury Danger in CFL lamps
It is a fact that CFL, i.e. Compact Fluorescent Light lamps contain Mercury, which is a potentially dangerous chemical. Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin that can affect the functioning of the nerves and brain, especially in children and pets, and is also shown to have affected unborn babies. Mercury can also have adverse effects on environment and other animals. Mercury compounds can also get inside our body through some foods and cause poisoning. Refer. But it is to be noted that these CFLs are safe and do not pose any health risks - as long as the glass tubing containing mercury remains intact. Moreover, the CFLs generally contain about 4 milligrams of mercury, which is one in hundredth part of mercury contained in older thermometers.
Nevertheless, the CFL bulbs can be dangerous when they are cracked, broken or not disposed off properly. According to US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), one CFL bulb when broken does not create any grave danger to the people living in a home, but it has indeed set clear safety guidelines in case of broken CFLs - to minimize exposure to mercury vapor. You can read the detailed instructions from here.
Note that there are other types of light bulbs as well that contain mercury.
- Linear, U-tube and circline fluorescent tubes
- Bug zappers
- Tanning bulbs
- Black lights
- Germicidal bulbs
- High output bulbs, and
- Cold-cathode fluorescent bulbs.
High intensity discharge bulbs:
- Metal halide
- Ceramic metal halide
- High pressure sodium, and mercury vapor.
- Mercury short-arc bulbs; and Neon bulbs.
Why is Mercury used in Fluorescent Lamps
The fluorescent bulbs have come into use because they require less energy for lighting and are more energy efficient when compared to the conventional incandescent bulbs. It is to be noted that generation of electricity by burning coal also releases mercury into the environment, so by using these fluorescent bulbs instead of the incandescent bulbs, the energy use and thereby the associated release of mercury from many of these power plants is reduced. Also, these fluorescent bulbs are cost effective, as they last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs.
However, the manufacturers are trying to reduce mercury content in the CFL lamps, and studies are also looking for any alternative ways. Till then, it is important for us to use these CFL lamps carefully and handle any breakage safely - as suggested by EPA.