Friday, August 26, 2011

How Many Decontamination Teams Does It Take To Change a Light Bulb?

We have had a busy week, with a 5.8 earthquake and now a hurricane headed our way. The beach is not looking as calm as this picture today. People are evacuating areas near the Virginia coast. Some of our friends are hosting families at their homes. Hopefully, everyone will have a safe weekend. We are stocked up and ready to go for whatever happens, but what is really on my mind right now is securing your CFL bulbs.

Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs are supposed to save us lots of money. When one broke at our house this week, it wasn't even because someone dropped one! My son was changing the light bulb in our bathroom and as he was screwing it into the fixture, it broke right in his hand! We knew enough about them that we should call poison control to find out what to do.

Each bulb contains a very small amount of mercury. It is much less than the glass thermometers we used to use, but mercury accumulates and can reach toxic levels with multiple exposures. So, if it is not properly cleaned up, people and pets can be repeatedly exposed. Again, this is a small amount, but there are ways to minimize risk of exposure.

A broken CFL bulb must be handled carefully. The person at poison control asked us how we cleaned up the "dust" from the light bulb break. I had not seen any dust, but she said that the vapor and dust come from the portion of the bulb where the mercury is and are the main way people come in contact with the mercury. 

The EPA suggests ways to protect yourself against the dangers of these light bulbs, like consider using a plastic sheet when changing a fluorescent light bulb in case a breakage should occur. This will help prevent mercury contamination of nearby surfaces and can be bundled with the bulb debris for disposal.

With the natural disasters that have been happening this week, it made me think of how important it would be to secure these light bulbs in case of an emergency. We have a whole stack of these out in our garage. If those broke at the same time, it would significantly increase the amount of mercury in the air and on nearby items and surfaces.

This is what the EPA suggests even if one CFL bulb breaks (see more detailed steps):

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
Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder.
Place cleanup materials in a sealable container.

After cleanup
Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly. Avoid leaving any bulb fragments or cleanup materials indoors.

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.


marci357 said...

You realize of course that those bulbs are NOT supposed to go into your garbage - they are supposed to be saved for your hazardous waste disposal day...

Govt! They ban mercury thermometers and then put mercury into the lightbulbs!

Easy removal tip? - Use an old bread sack when removing a bulb - place sack around the bulb, and your hands on the outside of the sack. Once unscrewed, tie the top of the bread sack, and save for hazardous waste disposal day...
Or just continue to use old fashioned lightbulbs - which are getting hard to find these days :(

Linda said...

That is crazy! Thanks for the tips:)