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  • Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb Clean Up & Disposal

    They save lots of energy, but like all fluorescent bulbs, CFLs have a small amount (~5 milligrams) of mercury in them. Mercury is a toxic heavy metal that can interfere with the development of children and unborn fetuses and may cause health issues in adults such as brain, kidney, and liver damage.
    To avoid the possible contamination of air, soil, and groundwater, and increasing risk to human health, CFLs should not be disposed of in landfills.

    If you use CFLs, what should you do if one breaks?

    In referencing recommendations by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other sources, we recommend the following for the clean up of broken compact fluorescent light bulbs. Using these methods will help protect you and those around you from mercury contamination.
    1. Have people and pets leave the room.
      • Shut off the central forced air heating/air-conditioning (H&AC) system, if you have one.
      • Air out the room for 5-10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoor environment.
      • Collect materials needed to clean up broken bulb (sticky tape or a damp paper towel, disposable gloves, sealable plastic bag).
    2. During cleanup
      • Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder (Do not use a vacuum or pick up glass fragments with your hands. We find that using either sticky tape [carpeted areas] or a damp paper towel work well.)
      • Place cleanup materials and all bulb fragments in a sealed plastic bag.
    3. After cleanup
      • Promptly place the sealed plastic bag containing all bulb debris and cleanup materials outdoors in a container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly at the Tucson Household Hazardous Waste Program.  Avoid leaving any bulb fragments or cleanup materials indoors.
      • For several hours, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the H&AC system shut off.

    Where should we safely dispose of CFLs?

    If the CFL is broken, the Tucson Household Hazardous Waste Program will accept them for disposal.
      • This is due to the mercury content, broken and expired CFLs should be taken to a collection site for proper disposal and recycling. Place them in your trunk or in the back of your pickup truck in a sealed container.
    If the CFL is not broken, the locations below will also accept them for recycling:
      • The Home Depot
      • Lowes
      • Find more locations at Earth 911

    Should we bother with CFLs?

    With all this extra effort and precaution, you might be asking yourself now whether you should bother with CFLs at all. In fact, CFLs actually reduce the amount of mercury entering the air and therefore reduce the risk to public health.

    Most of the mercury in the air comes from burning fossil fuels (coal). CFLs use up to 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and can last up to ten times longer. So, CFLs require less coal to be burned compared to incandescent bulbs. The Environmental Issues section of About.com states that “a power plant will emit 10 mg of mercury to produce the electricity to run an incandescent bulb compared to 2.4 mg of mercury or less to run a compact fluorescent lamp for the same length of time.”

    While CFLs are not the best solution for some uses (see related article on PDEQ’s website), they are a great value and energy saver when used appropriately.
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    Department of Environmental Quality

    33 N. Stone Ave., Suite 700
    Tucson, AZ 85701

    Phone: (520) 724-7400
    Fax: (520) 838-7432


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