CFLs and a call for civil disobedience

Why don’t a hundred people or so gather at the Capitol and each drop a CFL bulb in the new billion dollar Visitors Center (the one Harry Reid likes so much because he is now shielded from his constituents’ BO)? What good would that do? Bring the government to a complete screeching halt, if these EPA cleanup guidelines are followed.

What to Do if a Fluorescent Light Bulb Breaks

Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) are lighting more homes than ever before, and EPA is encouraging Americans to use and recycle them safely. Carefully recycling CFLs prevents the release of mercury into the environment and allows for the reuse of glass, metals and other materials that make up fluorescent lights.

EPA is continually reviewing its clean-up and disposal recommendations for CFLs to ensure that the Agency presents the most up-to-date information for consumers and businesses. Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection released a CFL breakage study report Exit EPA Disclaimer on February 25, 2008. EPA has conducted an initial review of this study and, as a result of this review, we have updated the CFL cleanup instructions below.

Pending the completion of a full review of the Maine study, EPA will determine whether additional changes to the cleanup recommendations are warranted. The agency plans to conduct its own study on CFLs after thorough review of the Maine study.

Fluorescent light bulbs contain a very small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing. EPA recommends the following clean-up and disposal below. Please also read the information on this page about what never to do with a mercury spill.

Before Clean-up: Air Out the Room

  • Have people and pets leave the room, and don’t let anyone walk through the breakage area on their way out.
  • Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.
  • Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one.

Clean-Up Steps for Hard Surfaces

  • Carefully scoop up glass pieces and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.
  • Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.
  • Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place towels in the glass jar or plastic bag.
  • Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.

Clean-up Steps for Carpeting or Rug

  • Carefully pick up glass fragments and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.
  • Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.
  • If vacuuming is needed after all visible materials are removed, vacuum the area where the bulb was broken.
  • Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister), and put the bag or vacuum debris in a sealed plastic bag.

Clean-up Steps for Clothing, Bedding and Other Soft Materials

  • If clothing or bedding materials come in direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powder from inside the bulb that may stick to the fabric, the clothing or bedding should be thrown away. Do not wash such clothing or bedding because mercury fragments in the clothing may contaminate the machine and/or pollute sewage.
  • You can, however, wash clothing or other materials that have been exposed to the mercury vapor from a broken CFL, such as the clothing you are wearing when you cleaned up the broken CFL, as long as that clothing has not come into direct contact with the materials from the broken bulb.
  • If shoes come into direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powder from the bulb, wipe them off with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place the towels or wipes in a glass jar or plastic bag for disposal.

Disposal of Clean-up Materials

  • Immediately place all clean-up materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area for the next normal trash pickup.
  • Wash your hands after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing clean-up materials.
  • Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your specific area. Some states do not allow such trash disposal. Instead, they require that broken and unbroken mercury-containing bulbs be taken to a local recycling center.

Future Cleaning of Carpeting or Rug: Air Out the Room During and After Vacuuming

  • The next several times you vacuum, shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system and open a window before vacuuming.
  • Keep the central heating/air conditioning system shut off and the window open for at least 15 minutes after vacuuming is completed.


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28 responses to “CFLs and a call for civil disobedience

  1. Anonymous

    Do “they” really think that the world at large is going to follow all of these safety procedures? I predict a longer term problem from the mercury disposal

  2. Peg

    Actually, this reminds me a bit of housing codes in MN roughly 20 years ago. The state demanded that homes were constructed such that they were extremely “tight” – for energy savings. Turns out they saved energy… but – without any fresh air able to enter a home, many of the homes ended up developing serious mold issues.

    Did the state assume responsibility for forcing builders and home owners to adhere to a code that ultimately cost them thousands of dollars?

    Ha ha ha; I will let you figure out the answer to that!

  3. @Anon 6:41,
    Got news for you. All those 4′ and 8′ flourescent tubes that we’ve been using for years? They have mercury in them, too.

    And for years, typical disposal has been “throw ’em in the dumpster.”

    So either there is no long term problem, or we’ve already got it.

    (Come to think of it, that might explain some of the decisions coming out of Washington.)

  4. This is what you get when a government bureaucracy has to provide a completely safe, no-risk procedure. They probably wanted to seal off the house and tear it down, but decided they had to take some bit of risk in the recommendations.

    What should be done if I drop an open can of tuna on the rug? It has some mercury in it also.

    “Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your specific area.” What happens when you do this, and they send out a HASMAT team (hazardous materials cleanup) just to be safe, and force you to evacuate your house for a week while they go through all of the industrial regulations?

    If someone is afraid of second hand smoke, how can they risk the breakage of a CFL? How could one live in the house after that? Is the past breakage of a CFL a significant fact that must be revealed when selling the house?

    I explore some of the other aspects of CFL’s at “The CFL Advertising Account”

  5. R. Pittman

    To the ramparts!

  6. I don’t have ready access to a recycling infrastructure that is capable of handling CFLs. However, line quality where I live is so poor that the MTTF of an incandescent is a month or so. Hence, I use CFLs (and the colour temperature and warm-up times are so much better these days that they are an acceptable substitute). When they fail, they go in the trash. I’m not too concerned. I don’t live anywhere near a landfill. Callous? Maybe. But I don’t really have an economically rational choice.

    With any luck, CFLs are a stopgap technology. I hope to be lighting my apartment with LEDs within five years. But right now I am unwilling to spend $700 on replacements.

  7. Jim C.

    Meh. After a very few incidents it’ll probably be classified as “domestic terrorism”.

  8. EPA Director

    **For Immediate Release**


    As of 31 Jan 09, the EPA, in an effort to promote the safety of the general populace, and as part of the “greening” of America, will now require all CFL bulbs to contain Thalidimide as well as mercury….

    No Animals were harmed during the production of this satire…..Yet….

  9. Richard

    In thirty years the only lasting result of the current global warming histeria may be the mercury contamination from these silly lightbulbs.

  10. So let me see if I understand this….

    My government is forcing me to change to a different light source which:

    1. is a significant safety bio-hazard;
    2. is incompatible with existing dimmer switches;
    3. can trigger and exacerbate medical symptoms;
    4. interferes with other household appliances; and
    5. attracts every bug within a 50 mile radius of my house to it…

    …and for what?

    To save a couple of grams of carbon dioxide.

    What. A. Joke.

    Start stocking up now.

  11. Mikee

    What exactly is the legal penalty to be expected for dispersing a toxic substance in a federal facility? I would guess it would be more than 30 days for trespassing…. I would guess say, 10 years in a federal penitentiary. So while your modest proposal has merit in pointing out the illogic of the CFLs and of the EPA, I recommend finding a mode of protest less demanding of time for the protesters.

    • christopherfountain

      Well perhaps a few million light bulbs sent to Congressmen by angry constituents would be wiser.

  12. They could be the first 100 people shipped to the New Guantanamo under the Obama administration for being Environmental Terrorists!

    It might be more interesting to do the same thing at the headquarters for the EPA and see if they follow their own guidelines.

  13. Thom

    Ten years from now we’ll need to know the clean-up procedure for candle wax.

  14. Eric

    Nobody with half a brain is going to pay attention to these guidelines at home.

    But! At any kind of entity or institution or company that can be sued (which of course will let congress of the hook), any dropped light bulb will be grounds for a lawsuit on behalf of any person or baby within half a mile, for various bogus ailments and “anguish,” “distress” etc. And woe to the entity that doesn’t have a “dropped CFL bulb response plan” that was followed to the letter. It won’t of course save them from a lawsuit with a negotiated settlement to make the suing party go away, it just might reduce the settlement a bit.

    And of course OSHA will be fining businesses left and right for any deviation from the approved procedures, or failing to document the procedures, etc…

  15. reminder

    Glen Reynolds should be reminded that he was browbeating everyone to install these dangerous bulbs … to the point where he was boasting of having “sold” more than another “green” blog.

    The Maine study, and the regulations for disposal promulgated by the Maine DEP, were widely known at the time also.

    This isn’t news. These bulbs were pushed on an unsuspecting public by the very people now saying they’re dangerous.

  16. Peg C.

    I can’t stand the light from these things and they make me nauseous. Even if that were not the case, I’d still be boycotting them and hoarding incandescents. Anything with Algore attached to it I boycott immediately. If that’s civil disobedience, I’m a charter member. 😉

  17. Leland

    I’m proud to say my Congressman is ahead of the curve. A local radio stationed offered to keep him in supply of CFLs. Forget the visitor center and move the resistance right into the chambers.

  18. Let’s see a Federal Bureaucracy = epitome of ineptitude! When getting rid of old asbestos they tape off an entire area of a building with heavy gauge plastic (hmmm a half life of forever) and send in workers in space suits to get rid of it. I suppose that’s what’s next for CFA’s – we will all be required to use them and then have to hire a government certified contractor to remove them from our lamps. This sounds a lot like federal government FUBAR as usual.

  19. Anonymous

    I really do like the suggestion of sending the CFL bulbs to your congressional representative. Now I just need to find a stamp and an envelope

  20. Rich

    I use the daylight CFLs in many rooms where reading is done as the bluish light is quite pleasure and actually makes text clearer and easier to read. There is a difference between those and the standard CFLs which are too reddish. BUT, I am stocking up on GE Reveal incandescent bulbs, because they are dimmable and offer the same benefits of the CFL daylight bulbs, they are terrific in the bedroom and bathroom.

  21. adamtree

    These guidlines require such careful care during clean-up, but advise that the materials be tossed in the trash when done. Did they not see a problem with that?

    If I put the broken glass, powder, etc. in a plastic bag or jar and throw it in the trash where it was headed anyway, haven’t I produced more waste by using the bag or jar?

  22. Eric

    Apparently a congressman already had the idea of dropping a lightbulb in the capitol….

  23. Thomas Edison must be rolling in his grave…

  24. There are the things they tell you to do (call the HAZMAT team and take a two-week vacation in the Azores), or there are the things you really do (sweep it up, throw it in [somebody else’s] trash).

    If it breaks while cold, no problem. Get a high-powered magnifying glass, try to find the mercury pinpoint, add it to your jar, install replacement incandescent bulb.

    If it breaks while hot (less likely), open all the doors and windows, fire up the barbie in the back yard, wait an hour, install replacement incandescent bulb.

    They don’t tell you outright that CFLs work best when left on. Turning them on and off – like a room light – is really bad for them.

    The CFL thing is eerily reminiscent of the time they made us replace all that nasty Freon (non-toxic) and replace it with something that is really toxic – it takes a special mechanic’s certificate to work with it. Not to worry, though – that’ll be banned soon enough.

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  26. Frank

    this used to be the greatest country in the world – ever since the “great depression” back in the 30’s the country has gone to hell –
    is there a manual on how I’m supposed to wipe my butt ?? I’d hate to violate another idiot law

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