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What to Do If You Break a Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb

There are lots of pluses to using compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). For one, they use less energy. That’s good for the environment—and for your wallet since they last six times as long as regular bulbs.

The downside? The bulbs can be dangerous if they  break. While any broken glass is dangerous to people and pets, CFLs come with extra risk. That’s because they contain mercury, which is poisonous to humans’ nervous systems. Special steps need to be taken if a CFL breaks in your home.  Here’s a step-by-step guide of what to do.

  1. Clear all people and pets out of the area.
  2. Open a window or door to air out the area. (Make sure to shut off forced air or heating if it’s on.)
  3. Gather your supplies: cardboard or stiff paper, tape, damp towels and a glass jar or sealable plastic bag. One supply you won’t want is a vacuum—it can spread mercury powder and vapor.
  4. Sweep the broken bits of glass into the glass jar or sealable bag. Use sticky tape to collect any remaining fragments, then place the used tape in the glass jar or plastic bag.
  5. Place any items used to clean up the area in a trash bag. Place the trash bag outside of your home—leaving it inside could pose health risks to you and others.
  6. Call your local government to find out if there are any special requirements for disposing of CFLs. If not, you can throw them out in your regular trash. If you’d rather recycle, some businesses like Lowe’s will do that for you free of charge.
  7. If possible, continue to air out the area where the bulb broke for a few hours.

Still have questions or concerns? If so, you can contact the American Association of Poison Control Centers 24/7 at (800) 222-1222.

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