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The Dangerous Downside to Energy Efficient CFL Light Bulbs

Updated on February 6, 2011

LED is the way to go... still a bit expensive up front but 7 Watts LED is like a 60 Watt Regular Bulb and no worries about Mercury Contamination.

Compact Flourscent Light Bulb Clean Up Procedure after Breakage

This article contains information provided from blogs and the Federal Governments Energy Star program website.

Many of you may not know that soon you will be FORCED to purchase CFL or extremely expensive LED light bulbs. If you would like to know more about that you can read my article Energy Efficient Light Bulbs - New Laws to FORCE You to Buy Expensive Specialty Light Bulbs. I am writing this article today to make people aware of the dangers of CFL (Compact Flourscent Light) Bulbs. I’ve been aware of the dangers of Mercury for quite some time, but most people are not. Like most people I want to do what is good for the Environment and at the same time I want to save money on my energy bills. So I went to Costco and purchased some no name 100 Watt CFL Bulbs. The 100 watt equivalent bulbs consume 23 watts according to the packaging. And Costco’s price was much cheaper than Lowes, Home Depot, and yes even Walmart.

Now before I get started on the Dangers of these bulbs one should note that the upside is this: Coal fired power plants will produce more Mercury creating the power to run the bulbs than the bulbs use to emit the light. So by using the bulbs you are actually decreasing the amount of Mercury put into the atmosphere. You can research more for the exact amount… it’s not huge but it’s still a reduction. The problem is LED bulbs emit no Mercury at all and also reduce the amount of emissions. Sadly LED bulbs are astronomically expensive. Even sadder is the US Government is forcing CFL’s on an unknowing public! And they are doing this before any real effort is being made to establish recycling centers where bulbs can be safely disposed of by the average citizen. This is just plain stupid! But when Government gets their greedy hands involved in our lives stupid happens – more frequently than not.


Well today I went and did it. I dropped one of the blubs right on the tile floor! Yikes! I knew about the danger and I knew I wasn’t supposed to vacuum up the mess, but I didn’t know just how serious this problem really is when a CFL is broken. Being a bit of an internet junkie I immediately went to the PC and started reading about how to clean up the mess. You can see the Government’s Advice from Energy Star in it’s entirety below. What I didn’t realize is that Mercury Vapor is released into the air so you need to air out the room for 15 minutes BEFORE you clean up the mess. I didn’t do that! Dumb me! Fortunately the bulb was not hot so the vapor had not had a chance to develop. I was just left with shards of glass and a powdery mess. I also got lucky that the bulb was broken on tile and not on carpeting. So it was pretty easy to completely wipe up the residue using paper towels and Clorox disinfecting wipes. But now I have a very uneasy feeling about using CFL’s. When you drop and break something you don’t expect it to put you, your family, and your pets in immediate danger. What is the Government Thinking by not making this information priority number one in educating the general public? They should be running TV and Radio spots explaining this danger! But of course they are not! The articles below will help you if you have your own CFL accident. For me I’m going to stop using CFL’s and spend the money on LED or stock up on Incandescent blubs before they are banned.

How to Clean up a Broken CFL Bulb – Government Advice


How should I clean up a broken fluorescent bulb?

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 cleanup and disposal steps. A cleanup overview is described below; please visit for more information.

What is mercury?

Mercury is an element (Hg on the periodic table) found naturally in the environment. Mercury emissions in the air can come from both natural and man-made sources. Coal-fired power plants are the largest man-made source because mercury that naturally exists in coal is released into the air when coal is burned to make electricity. Coalfired power generation accounts for 51 percent6 of the mercury emissions in the U.S. The use of CFLs reduces power demand, which helps reduce mercury emissions from power plants.

For more information on all sources of mercury, visit

For more information about compact fluorescent bulbs, visit

EPA is continually reviewing its cleanup and disposal recommendations for CFLs to ensure

that the Agency presents the most up-to-date information for consumers and businesses.

1 Source: U.S. EPA 2005 National Emissions Inventory.

2 Source: Cain, A., S. Disch, C. Twaroski, J. Reindl, C. R. Case. Substance Flow Analysis of Mercury Intentionally Used in Products in the United

States. Journal of Industrial Ecology. Volume 11, Issue 3, pages 61–75, July 2007.

3 Source: U.S. Federal Trade Commission – USA Trade Online /Stat USA.

4 Energy Information Administration data averaged over a five-year period.

5 This document contains information designed to be useful to the general public. This document does not impose legally binding requirements,

nor does it confer legal rights, impose legal obligations, or implement any statutory or regulatory provisions. This document does not change or

substitute for any statutory or regulatory provisions. This document presents technical information based on EPA’s current understanding of the

potential hazards posed by breakage of mercury-containing fluorescent lamps (light bulbs) in a typical household setting. Finally, this is a living

document and may be revised periodically without public notice. EPA welcomes comments on this document at any time and will consider those

comments in any future revisions of this document.

6 Source: U.S. EPA 2005 National Emissions Inventory.


The most important steps to reduce exposure to mercury vapor from a broken bulb are:

1. Before cleanup

a. Have people and pets leave the room.

b. Air out the room for 5-10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoor


c. Shut off the central forced air heating/air conditioning (H&AC) system, if you have one.

d. Collect materials needed to clean up broken bulb.

2. During cleanup

a. Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder.

b. Place cleanup materials in a sealable container.

3. After cleanup

a. 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.

b. For several hours, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the

H&AC system shut off.

More Information on CFL Safety

Throughout the last several years the use of CFL light bulbs have became increasingly popular due to the economical demands placed on individuals and new energy initiatives focused around living eco-friendly and “Green”. Unfortunately, the main two arguments between compact fluorescent lighting and being “Green” is that mercury is required inside bulb and the amount of mercury in each CFL bulb. The older CFL bulbs were being built using approximately 5 milligrams of mercury unlike today, where bulbs contain approximately 2 to 3.5 milligrams of mercury.

The amount of mercury in each CFL light is dangerous but equally important is the type of mercury used. Older bulbs and manufacturers use liquid mercury which poses the highest environmental concern because at all temperatures the mercury is in a liquid state producing mercury vapors. In the case that a light bulb was broken, the mercury and its vapors would leech out in the atmosphere.

Now days, most manufactures produce CFL light bulbs using amalgam. Amalgam is an alloy of mercury that is combined with other metals. Amalgam is a safer alternative to liquid mercury because under room temperature it is a stable solid. It isn’t until the amalgam reaches approximately 100°C that mercury vapors are released. Fortunately, amalgam only reaches those temperatures while in use, which means that in the case that a CFL with amalgam breaks the amalgam will remain in a solid form resulting in a lesser effect to the environment. The use of amalgam minimizes the environmental impact on all stages of the products life cycle. It’s safer to manufacturer, transport, use, and recycle compact fluorescent light bulbs since liquid mercury has been removed from the equation.

Now that amalgam has become more popular, be sure to search for CFL light bulbs that are manufactured using a solid mercury, amalgam, versus liquid mercury. A few companies that have advertised using only amalgam are Neptun and TCP, both of which are leading compact fluorescent light bulb manufactures.

Link: Environmental Protection Agency


Submit a Comment

  • profile image

    C.J. Wright 

    7 years ago

    Nice work Mike. I have been stocking up on incandesants for the last three years....

  • gracenotes profile image


    7 years ago from North Texas

    I can't tell you how I hate, hate, hate these. Be careful with these. As I found out, the CFL's are very fragile. I was unscrewing one from a lamp socket, and it slipped out of my hand. It fell behind my headboard on a CARPETED area, and a piece broke off.

    I think I am going to stock up on incandescents before they are no longer available.

  • Hmrjmr1 profile image


    7 years ago from Georgia, USA

    Thanks Mike for some good safety info.

  • Crewman6 profile image


    7 years ago

    Excellent research, and information I will put to use. Thanks.


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