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Working at CSU

Take care when cleaning up broken CFLs

June 7, 2010

Compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs, are more energy efficient than standard incandescent bulbs, which is important in these days of mounting concern about the environment. But they contain mercury, and that mercury can be a health hazard if the bulb breaks.

Take care cleaning up. Here's what to do:

  • Clear the room. Get everyone out of the room immediately, especially children, pregnant women, and pets.
  • Ventilate the area. Turn off any fans, air conditioning, or forced-air heating. Open the windows to let fresh air circulate in the room.
  •  Wait before cleaning. Stay out of the room for at least 15 minutes before beginning to clean up the area. Gather the supplies you'll need: disposable gloves, plastic zip-lock bags, a flashlight, duct tape, and some damp paper towels.
  • Gather debris carefully. Wearing your disposable gloves, pick up all the larger pieces you can find and place them in a zip-lock bag. Push tiny bits of glass or powder into piles using a piece of cardboard or stiff paper and place them into bags.
  • Be thorough. Use a flashlight to locate tiny bits of glass or mercury. Pat the entire area with duct tape to pick up small traces of debris. Then use a damp paper towel to pat down the area once again.
  • Dispose of the material. Put everything, including your gloves, into zip-lock plastic bags for immediate disposal.  For the campus community, place the plastic bag into a cardboard box and tape it up. Then, call campus recycling at (970) 491-0113 for a special pick-up, giving your building and room number. Fort Collins area residents have several options for recycling CFLs, including drop-off locations and mail-in service. More [PDF].
  • Wash up. Thoroughly wash your face and hands after you've finished cleaning.
  • Keep the air flowing. Continue to ventilate the area for several hours. Use a portable fan to push air outside.
  • Replace rugs and carpeting. Small amounts of mercury can penetrate the fabric in rugs and carpeting. You may need to replace at least the section of the carpet where the bulb broke, and you should probably wrap up and dispose of any rugs.
  • Vacuum with care. When you do your next normal cleaning and vacuuming, keep children, pets, and pregnant women out of the area. Ventilate the room before and after cleaning. If you vacuum, remove and dispose of the vacuum bag immediately. (If you use a bag-free vacuum, empty it out immediately into a plastic zip-lock bag, clean the interior surface with a damp cloth, and discard the cloth in the bag before disposal.)