When The Bulb Breaks – CFLs and Mercury

walter-falk-2007.jpgCommentary
The Green Beat

By Walter Falk

The concern with global warming has led to an increased focus on improving the efficiency of all our household appliances, thus reducing the carbon footprint. New refrigerators, furnaces, air conditioners and the like are in many cases more than twice as efficient as those sold twenty or thirty years ago. It is now the turn of the venerable incandescent light bulb, little changed since the days of its inventor Thomas Edison more than a hundred years ago.

The compact fluorescent bulb is currently the main candidate to take its place. The compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) uses only about a quarter or so of the wattage to produce the same illumination as the old incandescent bulb. Part of the energy bill passed by Congress recently mandates that the old inefficient incandescent bulb be phased out by 2012. Though manufacturers promise eventually to provide new more efficient incandescent bulbs and LEDs that meet consumers’ needs and the new legal standards, for the time being, most of us will be replacing the old incandescents with compact fluorescents.

The fluorescents have one drawback. They contain mercury. If they break and there is a spill, the spill must be handled carefully. Instructions can be found at: Earth911.org. A few Do’s and Don’ts from the site:

  • DO call your local health department and inform them of the situation;
  • DO immediately remove children from the area;
  • DO clean up the silver mercury beads by using one sheet of paper to carefully roll them onto a second sheet of paper, or use an eye dropper to collect it all. Then place the mercury into a plastic bag or airtight container. The paper and eye dropper should also be bagged in a zip-lock container.
  • DON’T try to soak it up with a towel or rag; doing so only spreads the mercury, breaking it up into smaller beads making it more difficult to find and remove.
  • DON’T use household cleaning products to clean the spill, particularly products that contain ammonia or chlorine. These chemicals will react violently with mercury, releasing a toxic gas.
  • DON’T vacuum carpeted floors contaminated with liquid mercury.

When it comes time to dispose of burnt-out fluorescents, ordinary recycling will not do. Special recycling centers that will handle them can be found by consulting Earth911.org, but these centers are few and far between. However, some Ace Hardware stores have come to the rescue. All the Ebel owned Ace Hardware stores are accepting compact fluorescent bulbs for recycling, according to Scott, Assistant Manager of the Chicago Heights store. Apart from Chicago Heights, these stores are also found in Homewood, Oak Forest and Elmhurst.

It is not necessary to have bought the bulbs you are bringing in for recycling at an Ace store. Since the chain is encouraging this program, other Ace franchisees may also be participating but you had best call ahead to confirm.

Source: http://www.Earth911.org