About Compact Fluorescent (CFL) Bulbs
What You Should Know about the Mercury in Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs)
What is Mercury?
Mercury is a naturally occuring element (Hg on the periodic table) found throughout the environment in air, soil and water. Humans do not create nor can they destroy mercury. In its pure form, mercury is a liquid metal that is sometimes called quicksilver.
Where is mercury found in nature?
Mercury can be found in many rocks above and below ground, including coal. When coal burns, mercury enters the environment. Coal-burning power plants are the largest human created source of mercury emissions in the air in the United States. Coal burning plants account for over 40 percent of all domestic human-created mercury emissions. Mercury in the air eventually migrates into fresh and salt water where it transforms into methyl mercury, which builds up in fish.
Burning hazardous wastes, chlorine production, breaking products with mercury, as well as improper treatment and disposal of mercury containing products or wastes can release mercury into the environment.
Where can mercury be found at home?
Mercury can be found in some of the products we use daily and in some of the food we eat, including fish. It may be found in the home, in schools, healthcare facilities, at the dentist, and in professional offices.
Mercury is used in products because it is an excellent conductor with high surface tension. Below is a list of some products containing mercury found in or around the home:
of some products containing mercury found in or around the home:
|Products||Average Amount of Mercury|
|Majority of CFLs, including ENERGY STAR qualified light bulbs||Less than 5 mg|
|Button cell batteries used in toys, hearing aids, watches and calculators||9 mg|
|Street lighting||30 mg|
|Non digital fever thermometer||1,000 mg|
|Older-style residential thermostats||4,500 mg|
|Blood pressure monitors||110,000 mg|
Comparison of mercury found in the typical compact fluorescent light bulb sold in the U.S.
Additionally, compact fluorescent light and bulb manufacturers continue to reduce the amount of mercury used inside CFL bulbs.
Why Use an ENERGY STAR Qualified Light Bulb?
CFLs with ENERGY STAR label consume to 75% less electricity and can last 10 times longer than the traditional incandescent bulbs. For example, an Energy Star qualified 13-watt light bulb produces light equal to a 60-watt incandescent bulb. The same light bulb also produces nearly 75% less heat, reducing home cooling demands and saving even more on monthly electricity.
While ENERGY STAR labeled light bulbs do contain a small amount of mercury, their usage creates a net reduction of overall mercury emissions to our environment when compared to using incandescent bulbs. As CFLs use less electricity than incandescent bulbs, less power is required from coal-fired plants, resulting in reduced mercury emissions.
Why is there Mercury in a Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb (CFL)?
All CFLs, including ENERGY STAR rated bulbs, require mercury in order to provide light.
Inside the fluorescent tube is a gas that contains argon and mercury. At both ends of the tube are electrodes.
Between the electrodes flow a stream of electrons. These electrons interact with the mercury vapor atoms that float inside the tube.
As the electrons and mercury interacts, the mercury atoms become excited. Photos of light found in the ultraviolet spectrum are released when the mercury atoms return to an unexcited state.
As the ultraviolet photons collide with the inside of the tube that is coated in phosphor, the phosphor glows, creating a white light
NOTE: EVERY CFL USES RECYCLED MERCURY AND MERCURY IS NOT EMITTED WHEN AN ENERGY STAR RATED LIGHT BULB IS BEING USED.
How do I Install a CFL (Compact Fluorescent Light)?
To safely and correctly install or remove a CFL bulb, grip the bulb by the base. For pin based lamps the bulb may need to be pulled straight out. GU-24 base lamps that have threaded bases need to be gently turned. Traditional Edison style lamps can be unscrewed.
Why is it Important to Recycle CFL Bulbs?
Because of the mercury contained inside each CFL bulb, including Energy Star rated light bulbs, the lamps need to be handled responsibly to reduce the mercury from entering into the environment. Recycling is the best option to achieve this. Information about recycling CFLs, by invidiual state, can be found at these websites:www.epa.gov/bulbrecycling, www.lamprecycle.org or www.earth911.org.
What Should Be Done if a Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb (CFL) Breaks?
Dr. David Ray, a leading toxicologist, supports the conclusion that there is a minimal risk to the individual from single CFL bulb breakages. As an added precaution please follow these steps should a compact fluorescent light bulb break:
Immediately open a window and leave the room for at least 15 minutes.
When returning to the room, carefully scoop the fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard. Use disposable rubber or latex gloves, if available. It is best not to use bare hands. Place the fragments in a container that is puncture proof and can be tightly sealed, such as a glass jar. Clean the area by wiping it with damp paper towels or wet wipes. Place these and the gloves in the sealed container. Wash your hands after cleanup and disposing of the sealed container
Do not use a broom or vacuum to clean up broken bulb fragments on a hard floor or surface.
If a CFL bulb breaks on a rug or carpet, remove all visible materials following the guidelines above. Sticky tape, such as packing tape or duct tap can be used to pick up smaller shards and powder.
If vacuuming is needed after the above step, vacuum around the area where the bulb was broken. If using a vacuum bag, remove the bag and place it in two sealed plastic bags before disposing of it in the outdoor trash for normal garbage. For bagless vacuums, empty and wipe out the container. Follow steps for disposing of a vacuum bag for the debris.
Take all broken and unbroken CFLs to a local recycling center that handles them.