When your CFL breaks and you don’t have a bunny suit …

[Disclaimer: This is NOT official medical, legal or any-other-al advice and I’m not any kind of expert. See full disclaimer below.]

By the way, a great tool for getting into annoying plastic packaging is tin snips.

What to do when a compact fluorescent bulb breaks? CFLs contain mercury and other bad stuff, and I’d heard everything from “It’s no big deal” to “Evacuate and quarantine immediately!” When one fell out of a light fixture and broke on my front porch, I called a hazardous waste cleaning company to ask advice. Actually I was hoping I could slide somebody $50 to break out their hazmat suit and come sweep the porch, but this particular company doesn’t handle cleanups that small.

Advice, however, they did give me. It sounded so practical I thought I’d share it, combined with some EPA tips. So, when a CFL bulb breaks:

Get the hell away from it. The moment it first breaks is when the mercury vapor is most concentrated. Don’t suck it in, and don’t let anybody else breathe it, either.

Air out the place and keep people and critters away while you do. Turn off the heat/AC, open up the windows and stick a fan in there. The EPA says to give it 5-10 minutes; others say 15 or longer.

Check the bulb maker’s website for tips (bulb types change over time). Or call 211 for advice.

Prepare for cleanup. You want to avoid getting cut by phosphor-coated glass and use disposable tools where possible. The guy I was talking to said if he mopped the area, he would throw away the mop; the EPA seems a little more relaxed about this.

      • DON’T vacuum first. Get as much glass up as you can other ways.
      • Personally, I want some kind of hand covering — nitrile gloves or plastic bags, maybe.
      • Cardboard/stiff paper helps you scoop glass shards into a…
      • … solid plastic container that’s sealable. (Not a bag, which the glass can shred.)
      • Duct tape helps pick tiny pieces out of carpet or off a hard surface.
      • Damp paper towels also help on hard surfaces.
      • A strong HEPA-filter vacuum is best, and a disposable filter helps too. When done, take the vac outside, plug it in and run it in the fresh air for a little bit.
      • Dump your tape, paper towels, cardboard, filter, etc. into the sealable container and, er, seal it.

Call 211 to find out how to dispose of it.

I’ll refrain from naming the company I talked to because I didn’t decide to blog this until after we got off the phone, so they were not speaking for publication. But it was great to chat with an expert about this for a few minutes, and it yielded tips I hadn’t heard before. Happy mopping, y’all.

Full disclaimer: This is NOT official medical, legal or other advice, and I am just an ordinary mook of a homeowner. When it comes to your own and your family’s safety, take whatever actions you think best.


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