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Efficient and Safe: What you should know about CFLs and mercury
One of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to reduce your energy costs is to replace your old incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). They use two-thirds less energy and last 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. Plus, they can save you up to $30 in energy costs over the life of the bulb.
You should also know that CFLs do contain a small amount of mercury - it's what makes the bulb so energy efficient. But it's important to know that CFLs are safe to use. No mercury is released when the bulbs are in use and they pose no danger when used properly.
What is mercury?
Mercury is a naturally occurring metal which has several forms. The metallic mercury is a shiny, silver-white, odorless liquid. If heated or allowed to evaporate, it is a colorless, odorless gas. When liquid mercury is spilled, it forms droplets that emit vapors into the air. However, when mercury emissions deposit into lakes and oceans, they can transform into a highly toxic form that builds up in fish.
What household items contain mercury?
Mercury may be found in the following household items:
Disposing of burned-out CFLs
Since CFLs do contain mercury, it is important that you do not throw them in your garbage can, if at all possible. Instead, follow these steps:
Wisconsin residents can visit Focus on Energy for additional CFL recycling information and to locate Wisconsin retailers participating in the CFL recycling initiative.
How much mercury is in a CFL?
CFLs contain approximately five milligrams (mg) of mercury sealed in the glass tubing.
This is equivalent to the tip of a ball-point pen. It would take between 100 to 600 CFLs to equal the amount of mercury in an old thermometer and manual thermostat respectively.
Disposing of broken CFLs
According to guidelines established by the Environment Protection Agency, you can safely clean up the spill yourself if the mercury spill is less than one to two tablespoons and is limited to a small area. If the mercury spill is larger, isolate the contaminated area and call your local environmental agency. The small amount of mercury in a fluorescent light bulb is not likely to cause a health problem, but it still should be cleaned up immediately. Before beginning clean-up:
On a smooth surface...
On a rug or carpeting...
When you are done…
For more information on the proper disposal of CFLs or the safe clean-up of mercury spills, please visit:
Note: These guidelines are based on good industrial hygiene practices. No assessment of the effectiveness of the clean-up methods described has been made.