Fluorescent Lamp Hazards-Environmental Health & Safety - Carnegie Mellon University

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Fluorescent Lamp Hazards

Fluorescent lamps have been around for many years now, and most of us know that when one breaks, there is a health hazard present.  The hazard is from metals such as lead, cadmium and, most importantly, mercury.  With the gradual elimination of incandescent light bulbs beginning, we will all be using more of the compact fluorescent bulbs, which contain many of the same hazardous components.

We know we should not throw old fluorescent lamps in the trash, but do you know what to do with them?  And what to do when one breaks?

Unbroken fluorescent lamps, regular or compact, that are still intact should be recycled.  Many home improvement stores will do this—just ask them.  The Pennsylvania DEP has household waste disposal events where they can also be disposed of.

If a fluorescent lamp breaks, the EPA recommends these activities:

  • Clear the room of people and pets, air out the room for 10 minutes and shut off the heating and AC.
  • Pick up the material (while wearing disposable gloves) with any of the following:  stiff paper or cardboard, sticky tape, damp paper towels or wet wipes.  DO NOT VACUUM—a vacuum will just spread the contamination.  If you have vacuumed, dispose of the vacuum bag.
  • Place the debris in a sealable container.  Dispose of at a recycling facility, as noted above.
  • It is helpful to continue to air out the room after the clean-up and leave the air handling off as well.

While the amount of mercury in a fluorescent lamp is very small, a very small amount can contaminate a great deal of water, should it end up in a landfill and ultimately, the water table.

And a special note:  Green-tipped lamps still have mercury present, though it is chemically bound differently that other types of tubes.  Most landfills will not accept these items either.