Chemicals

Handling Mercury-Containing Fluorescent Bulbs Safely

Mercury has quite the mystique. Its “quicksilver” identity fueled car brands; its thermal properties made it ubiquitous at one time in thermometers of every sort. But mercury is toxic, and workers who handle or break fluorescent bulbs are at risk of exposure.

Here is how to clean up broken bulbs.

Preventing Mercury Exposures

If you break a new fluorescent bulb, it will release more mercury than a spent bulb will release. If you break a fluorescent bulb, you’ll need to be careful to clean up the area while avoiding or minimizing your exposure to the mercury.

Here’s how to safely handle fluorescent bulbs:

  • When handling fluorescent bulbs on carpeted surfaces, put a drop cloth down to prevent contamination if a bulb breaks. Because it can be difficult to remove mercury contamination from carpets, it’s best to remove and replace the carpet if a bulb breaks onto it.


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  • If you break a bulb, open the windows in the area and then leave; let the air clear for 15 minutes to reduce mercury vapor levels before returning to clean up the broken bulb. The room should be ventilated for several hours after the bulb breaks.
  • Keep coworkers out of the area until cleanup is complete.
  • Put on rubber gloves to protect yourself from broken glass.
  • Prepare a sealable container that will hold all broken glass and cleanup materials and that will prevent further release of mercury vapors.
  • Carefully pick up large pieces of glass and put them in the prepared disposal container.
  • Use two stiff pieces of paper, such as index cards, to collect smaller shards and dust.


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  • Use sticky tape, such as duct tape or packing tape, to pat the area and pick up fine particles.
  • Go over the area with a damp paper towel to clean up the finest particles.
  • Put all debris and cleanup materials into the prepared disposal container and label as “Universal Waste—broken lamp.”
  • Place the sealed container in an appropriate storage area for universal waste; when it is ultimately discarded, it should be disposed of as universal waste.
  • Wash your gloves, then remove them and wash your hands and face.

Don’t use a vacuum cleaner to clean up broken fluorescent bulbs. Vacuuming spreads mercury vapor and dust throughout the area and contaminates the vacuum.

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