YOU Magazine - October 2008 - Energy-Efficient Light Bulbs What You Should Know
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YOU Magazine
Kathleen Petty     Kathleen Petty
AVP/Sr Mortgage Originator
Alaska USA Mortgage AK#157293
Phone: (907)261-3458 Cell: 223-4440
Fax: (907)929-6699
License: NMLS Unique Identifier #203077
Alaska USA Mortgage AK#157293
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Energy-Efficient Light Bulbs
What You Should Know

Energy-Efficient Light Bulbs - What You Should Know

We've all heard that using compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) is one very simple thing we can do to have a big impact on the amount of energy we use. In fact, if every American home replaced just one incandescent light bulb with an ENERGY STAR qualified CFL, we would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year, more than $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of more than 800,000 cars.

While we at YOU Magazine support the use of energy-efficient light bulbs, we want to make sure you know some facts about them – specifically how to dispose of them once they have burned out or if they happen to break.

Most CFLs contain some elemental mercury. It is a necessary component of energy efficient light bulbs, allowing them to use up to 75% less energy and last up to 10 times longer than regular bulbs. The amount of mercury used depends on a few factors, but the average is between 3.5 and 15 milligrams. Compare that to older fever thermometers, which contain about 500 milligrams, and you see it's a relatively small amount.

No mercury is released as long as the bulbs remain intact – exposure is only possible when one has been broken. Still, there are definite precautions you should exercise when using CFLs, particularly with their disposal.

Disposing of Burned-Out Bulbs
Simply throwing your old bulbs in the garbage will result in breakage and the release of mercury into the environment. Although most states do not have recycling requirements for CFLs, the EPA strongly encourages the recycling of all mercury-containing bulbs when they burn out, regardless of their mercury content  - almost all parts of compact fluorescent light bulbs can be recycled.

To locate a hazardous waste collection and recycling center in your area visit the EPA's bulb recycling page or Your local electric company may also have recycling information on its website.

Cleaning Up Broken Bulbs
Now, what to do if one of your fluorescent bulbs breaks? Well, here's where you need to take a little extra care – for your safety and the environment's. In addition to the steps below, which are recommended by the EPA, it is recommended that you first put on a pair of rubber, latex or nitrile gloves.

Before Clean-up: Air Out the Room

  1. Have people and pets leave the room, and don't let anyone walk through the breakage area.
  2. Open a window and leave the room for at least 15 minutes.
  3. Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system.

Clean-Up for Hard Surfaces

  1. Carefully scoop up glass pieces and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a glass jar with metal lid or in a sealed plastic bag.
  2. Use adhesive tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.
  3. Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place towels in the glass jar or plastic bag.
  4. Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.

Clean-up for Carpeting or a Rug

  1. Carefully pick up glass fragments and place them in a glass jar with metal lid or in a sealed plastic bag.
  2. Use adhesive tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.
  3. If vacuuming is needed after all visible materials are removed, vacuum the area where the bulb was broken.
  4. Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister), and put the bag or vacuum debris in a sealed plastic bag.

Clean-up Steps for Clothing, Bedding and Other Soft Materials

  1. If clothing or bedding materials come in direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powder from inside the bulb that may stick to the fabric, the clothing or bedding should be thrown away. Do not wash such clothing or bedding because mercury fragments in the clothing may contaminate the machine and/or pollute sewage.
  2. You can, however, wash clothing or other materials that have been exposed to the mercury vapor from a broken CFL, such as the clothing you are wearing when you cleaned up the broken CFL, as long as that clothing has not come into direct contact with the materials from the broken bulb.
  3. If shoes come into direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powder from the bulb, wipe them off with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place the towels or wipes in a glass jar or plastic bag for disposal.

Disposal of Clean-up Materials

  1. Immediately place all clean-up materials outside in a trash container or protected area for the next normal trash pickup.
  2. Wash your hands after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing clean-up materials.
  3. Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your specific area.

Future Cleaning of Carpeting or a Rug: Air Out the Room During and After Vacuuming

  1. The next several times you vacuum, shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system and open a window before vacuuming.
  2. Keep the central heating/air conditioning system shut off and the window open for at least 15 minutes after vacuuming is completed.

Additionally, you may read about what never to do with a mercury spill on the EPA's website.

Health Effects of Mercury Exposure
Elemental mercury usually causes health effects when it is breathed in as a vapor and absorbed by the body through the lungs. Some symptoms of mercury poisoning can include tremors, mood swings, muscle weakness, and headaches. With higher exposure there may be serious effects, including death. To read more about the health effects of exposure to mercury, please click here. If you are worried about your exposure to mercury, please consult your doctor.

Something as easy as replacing your light bulbs can make a significant difference in the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by power plants, not to mention the savings you'll see on your electric bill. Just make sure you're taking the necessary steps to ensure your safety – and the environment's.

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