How to handle Fluorescent Lamps and CFLs
Fluorescent lights are energy efficient and help reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change. These lights are able to accomplish this because they contain small amounts of mercury.
Mercury is a natural element that has many uses. However, mercury is a powerful neorotoxin and causes a variety of adverse health effects due to exposure. Those who are at most risk from mercury exposure are pregnant women and developing children.
The leading consensus from environmental organizations and government is that although fluorescents should be handled with care and managed properly to avoid breakage, they are still recommended for business and residential use due to their many benefits.
That being said, people should handle these products with care and common sense - much like you would when driving to avoid crashing your car. By taking simple steps to prevent breaking fluorescent lights, consumers can avoid exposure to mercury. Due to the possibility of mercury vapor being retained in carpets, you may want to consider using and handling fluorescent lights only in areas above hard flooring as well as areas with lamps that are not easily knocked over by children or animals.
The following guidelines are based on recommendations from the U.S. EPA and the recent study conducted by the state of Maine for cleaning up after a CFL or fluorescent tube breaks. Please note that in California, these lights are not allowed in the trash and must be managed as Universal Wastes. It should also be mentioned that if you break a CFL that no longer works or has been used for a while, as opposed to a new CFL, the amount of mercury vapor released during a break is likely to be significantly less. This is because much of the mercury will be bound to the glass rather than released as vapor.
When a fluorescent light breaks please refer to the following guidelines:
To find your nearest HHW facility, go to
To read the entire study that the state of Maine did on handling broken CFLs visit http://maine.gov/dep/rwm/homeowner/cflreport.htm