CFL and LED Disposal: How To Protect Your Family

Categories: News

About 5 years ago we were living in a Rural Area in Southern California, we were renting a property that was almost 7 acres.  Trying to be frugal we cancelled our Trash service, we were recycling everything ourselves and because we were doing compost, none of our green waste was disposed of and all the trash that was considered trash was taken by my husband every 5 months or so to the dump and would only cost us 8 dollars a trip. Needless to say we were saving around 45 dollars a month doing this, and for us a family of 5 with young children that was a good thing.

Almost two years after we started, we received a letter from Waste Management saying that we needed to renew our Trash service or that we would be charged a fine, anyway to make a long story short we were "persuaded" to reinstate the service. Calling waste management to arrange the delivery of our container; they asked me if I needed boxes to dispose of Batteries and I said yes (because I know how toxic they are for the soil), but then I was asked if I needed boxes to dispose of CFL's. I said "to dispose of CFL's? I didn't know they were toxic"... and he replied "Oh, yes maam, they are"... I explained to him that I had small children living in the house and that our entire house had these kind of light bulbs. I asked him to give it to me straight and what I needed to do in case one broke, and what he said was "Well, not to scare you or anything, but if a light bulb brakes... what is recommended is to evacuate your family and pets, wear overalls and clean the area wearing a mask, because they are highly toxic".

So here is what the EPA recommends when handling broken CFL or LED light bulbs.

Steps to Take When a CFL Breaks

Before Cleanup

  • Have people and pets leave the room.
  • Air out the room for 5-10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoor environment. 
  • Shut off the central forced air heating/air-conditioning system, if you have one.
  • Collect materials needed to clean up broken bulb:
    • stiff paper or cardboard;
    • sticky tape;
    • damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes (for hard surfaces); and
    • a glass jar with a metal lid or a sealable plastic bag.

During Cleanup

  • DO NOT VACUUM.  Vacuuming is not recommended unless broken glass remains after all other cleanup steps have been taken.  Vacuuming could spread mercury-containing powder or mercury vapor.
  • Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder.  Scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard.  Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder. Place the used tape in the glass jar or plastic bag.  See the detailed cleanup instructions for more information, and for differences in cleaning up hard surfaces versus carpeting or rugs.
  • Place cleanup materials in a sealable container.

After Cleanup

  • Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials, including vacuum cleaner bags, outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of.  Avoid leaving any bulb fragments or cleanup materials indoors. 
  • Next, check with your local government about disposal requirements in your area, because some localities require fluorescent bulbs (broken or unbroken) be taken to a local recycling center. If there is no such requirement in your area, you can dispose of the materials with your household trash.
  • If practical, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the heating/air conditioning system shut off for several hours.

Why is it important to clean up a broken CFL properly?

CFLs and other fluorescent light bulbs contain a small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing. When a fluorescent bulb breaks in your home, some of this mercury is released as mercury vapor. To minimize exposure to mercury vapor, EPA recommends that residents follow the cleanup and disposal steps described on this page.

What if I can't follow all the recommended steps? or I cleaned up a CFL but didn't do it properly?

If you are concerned about your health after cleaning up a broken CFL, consult your local poison control center by calling 1-800-222-1222. You can call your center any time you have questions or in an emergency. You can also consult your physician about potential health effects from mercury exposures.

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