Cry Over Spilled Mercury?

What started out as an innocent dusting job using the broom to reach the high recesses of my ceiling soon ended in tragedy. Well, it wasn’t as dramatic as all of that, but in the end I had a broken compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb on my kitchen floor and didn’t know what to do with it. My spidey senses knew that most (if not all) CFLs contain mercury, and that mercury = bad news for my health and that of my kids and cats, but how do you safely clean up a mercury spill? Was it anything to really worry about?

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the breakage of a mercury-containing light bulb like a CFL shouldn’t be taken lightly, although the amount of mercury in the average CFL is quite low. In fact, the average CFL contains about 5 milligrams (the same size as the tip of a ballpoint pen) of mercury. Compare that to the 500 milligrams in old-style thermometers, and that’s not much. Or consider that a typical dental filling contains up to 200 times more mercury than one of these bulbs. And of course, there’s the mercury that’s spewed into the atmosphere every day by coal-fired power plants.

But enough about that. The point here was to find out how to clean up the bulb, and the US EPA site recommended the following:

  • Have everyone leave the room, including pets.
  • Air out the room for 15 minutes while being sure to shut off air circulation devices (central air, for instance).
  • Using a stiff piece of paper or cardboard (not your broom or your vacuum!), brush up all of the glass shards, powder, and mercury you can and place it all in a plastic bag and seal.
  • Then, using tape, pick up any remaining debris.

It is also recommend that you throw away any clothing or bedding that comes in contact with the mercury directly.

– Lucy goes green