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WARNING: Carefully clean up broken CFL (fluorescent) lightbulbs if you have any

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Posted across from CNET as a warning and for information/use of other DC denizens - especially relevant if they, like me, have young children.
I thought CNET's advice (copied below) was a tad excessive, but not after I did some fact-checking on this. I actually had not realised that these bulbs had that much mercury in them. Mercury is highly toxic and accumulates in the body. Whilst it is presumed to be safe (trapped) in mercury amalgam tooth fillings, having free mercury or its compounds in the environment is quite a different matter. I am all for low-energy lightbulbs for reasons of energy conservation and minimising overall power consumption costs. I have them all over the house, and when they have been broken, I would just sweep the bits up and throw them in the trash without a second's thought. I'm kicking myself now.
The advice at the end of the CNET post seems pretty sensible. (However, I now feel like I've been conned  by the lightbulb manufacturers.)

Having had some close calls with toxic environments myself, I apologise that I did not draw attention before to the risks, but I had completely overlooked them as I thought they were probably alarmist when I was posting an item in the Basement which included this:
From an interview with Prof Les Woodcock in the Yorkshire Evening Post.
...He adds: “Light bulbs are a good example of the contradiction with the green movement. Europe has outlawed the tungsten lightbulb. Tungsten is a harmless metal, like gold, it does not react with anything and yet now, in the name of conserving energy, we have low energy light bulbs full of toxic chemicals, including mercury vapour, which is poisonous. If you smash a low energy lightbulb, the advice from the Department for the Environment is to vacate the room for 15 minutes.”

The Environment Agency website has this to say on low energy lightbulbs: “Energy saving light bulbs and fluorescent light tubes contain small amounts of mercury... mercury is a hazardous substance, these lightbulbs should be disposed of in accordance with hazardous waste regulations.”...

--- End quote ---

Here's the CNET post:
(Copied below sans embedded hyperlinks/images.)
How to clean up a broken CFL bulb
If a fluorescent light comes crashing down onto your kitchen floor, releasing the mercury trapped within, you don't need to panic. Just follow these steps to safely get things cleaned up.

    by Ry Crist   @rycrist    24 June 2014, 8:23 AM AEST

Fluorescent lights get their glow from the mercury trapped inside, and the compact fluorescents (CFLs) used for energy efficient household lighting are no different. So what do you do when one of these bulbs breaks, releasing that toxic mercury into your home?

First things first, you don't need to panic. While mercury is nothing to play around with, the amount contained inside a standard CFL is only about 1 percent of the amount that you'll find inside an old-fashioned mercury thermometer. Still, to be safe, you'll want to be sure that you clean the mess up correctly -- here's how to do just that, per EPA standards.

broken-cfl-2.jpg Colin West McDonald/CNET

Step one: Air out the area
As soon as that bulb breaks, you'll want to let the room air out for about 15 minutes. Get everyone out (especially pets, who might be inclined to investigate the mess), then open the windows and shut the doors. You'll also want to be sure and turn off your central air -- the last thing you want is to circulate that mercury throughout your home.

Step two: Find a sealable container
While you're avoiding the area in question, go ahead and take a moment to find something capable of containing that broken bulb. A glass jar with a metal lid is ideal, but if you don't have one handy, a plastic food container or even a sealable plastic bag will do the trick.

Step three: Pick up the pieces
You'll be tempted to sweep everything up with a broom -- but don't. Anything that rifles through the broken bits of your bulb is going to risk mercury contamination. You'll also want to be sure not to use your vacuum, as doing so will risk kicking mercury back up into the air.

The best bet is to carefully scoop up the larger bits of glass with a piece of paper or cardboard, something you can easily dispose of along with the broken bulb. Once the big pieces are up, try using a piece of duct tape to easily lift the tinier bits, along with any white powder that you see. You could also use a piece of bread -- just don't eat it afterwards.

Seal the broken bulb and everything you used to pick it up. A glass jar is best, but a plastic container like this one will work, too. Ry Crist/CNET

Step four: Wipe the floor clean
Once you've gotten the glass up off of the floor, you'll need to wipe things down with a damp paper towel. You'll want to go over the area fairly liberally, making sure not to leave any of that white powder from the bulb behind.

Once you're done, add that used paper towel to the container with the paper, the tape, and the broken glass. Go ahead and seal it up, then take it outside. Now would also be a good time to thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water.

Step five: Let the room air out for another few hours
You've gotten the floor spic and span, but there still might be trace amounts of mercury vapor left in the air. If you're able to, leave the windows open and the air conditioning off for another couple of hours. Better safe than sorry, right?

Your local government's website should have info on where you can take your broken bulbs.

Step six: Dispose of the broken bulb
Depending on your local regulations, you might not be required to take the broken bulb to a recycling center. It's a good idea nonetheless, as you don't want that mercury sent off to a landfill, where it might slowly leech into the ground. The waste management section of your local government's website should have info on which facilities will take hazardous household materials off of your hands.

Here in Louisville, Ky., there's only one place for residents to take broken CFLs -- and it's only open two days a week. If you're in a situation like this, it's fine to hang on to that sealed up wreckage for a few days -- just be sure to keep it outside.

cfl.jpg Ry Crist/CNET

If this all sounds too high maintenance for your tastes, then know that you have other options. LEDs offer better energy efficiency, longer lifespans, and zero mercury inside the bulbs. If the higher price tag is a deal breaker, then consider halogens. The gas each one uses to prolong the bulb's lifespan is totally harmless. A broken CFL might be an annoying chore to deal with, but it's also an opportunity to upgrade to a bulb that's a better fit for your home.

--- End quote ---

Known about this for many years- that all Flourescent type lamps contain a measurable amount of mercury.

The article is a little bit off though.

In that type of lamp, electric current flowing through the mercury vapor and filler gas creates almost entirely UV light. That UV light then strikes the white powder which lines the tube. The powder used to be a phosphorous, likely safer alternatives have been found and put in widespread use. But that powder then converts the UV light emitted by the mercury vapor into visible light at the bulb's rated color temperature.

Both mercury and powder are hazardous, and most people handle this type of lamp blissfully unaware of how hazardous they actually are.

It all comes down to just one more way the quest for green technology has actually created an even bigger problem than the one it solved because it was forced into mainstream before it was mature.

LED technology is shaping up nicely though. I think the only remaining snag with it is getting the manufacturing costs down- and making it so manufacturing them isn't so hazardous. Of the LED based fixtures I have deployed in the past 5 years, I have been consistently impressed with the reliable and efficient output. Its just a question of does their durability meet expectations- which so far is yes.

I knew they were dodgy but not to that extent.
Thanks for the info!

Light bulbs are a good example of the contradiction with the green movement. Europe has outlawed the tungsten lightbulb. Tungsten is a harmless metal, like gold, it does not react with anything and yet now, in the name of conserving energy, we have low energy light bulbs full of toxic chemicals, including mercury vapour, which is poisonous.
--- End quote ---

This one sentence right here has absolutely mystified me since CFL bulbs were first on the market.  The only argument I have heard that kinda/sorta makes sense, but is beyond my ability to research is, the energy saved by CFLs balances out the environmental damage of the materials used.
... and I still don't get it.

Thanks for the tips, IainB.  I regularly "recycle" my dead CFLs by harvesting the electronic parts inside for my own nefarious purposes.  Taking great care not to break the bulb, of course.
... and I still haven't seen the bulb life promised on the package, BTW...

...The only argument I have heard that kinda/sorta makes sense, but is beyond my ability to research is, the energy saved by CFLs balances out the environmental damage of the materials used...

--- End quote ---
Well, as I have said, this is a new issue to for me to consider, but as a concerned environmentalist I have to say that the argument you refer to is an unconscionable one that I have not come across before. I mean, for a start it presumes that deliberately increasing levels of health risks to humans and other animals in the environment can somehow be accepted as an "offset" if it helps to reduce power consumption, because that is in some way a form of net benefit to the environment.
So you probably don't need to research it, because it simply doesn't make sense, and it probably never could. As it stands, it's crawling with logical fallacy and unproven statement. It is meaningless BS.

However, if you asked the question "Under what circumstances would it make sense?", then you could perhaps say that:
If you produced new-type high-priced and ostensibly longer-lived and energy-saving lightbulbs, and
if you compelled their use by abolishing any of the old-type alternatives, and
if the new-type bulbs were made containing highly toxic and/or cumulative poisons/substances (including mercury), and
if the new-type bulbs were designed to be fragile so that, when broken, like little gas bombs they rapidly released their payload of cumulative toxins into the family home environment, then:

* The manufacturers will make an absolute pile of money for many years.
* It will be good for the economy (increased GDP).
* Population would gradually drop from the number of increased deaths and stillborn or fatally deformed babies or sterility, or whatever, brought about by mercury poisoning.
* The use of the new-type bulbs would contribute to a marginal and progressive reduction in the overall demand for electricity.
* The fall in population would contribute to an even greater progressive reduction in the overall demand for electricity.
* Progressively less fossil fuels and other resources would thus be consumed in the production of electricity.
* Malthusian catastrophe theory would be taught as gospel in elementary schools.
Of course, such a thing could never happen...Oh wait, do you mean to imply with that argument that it has happened...?


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