by Russ Steele
Oh my god, it broke! I was removing one of those funny curly cue light bulbs that the EPA calls CFLs, or Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb from the passage way in my garage and I dropped it on the concrete. The garage is only place I will allow this urban disaster in my home. Why, you ask?
The CFL bulbs contain a small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing. When it breaks, some of this mercury is released as mercury vapor. The broken bulb continues to release this mercury vapor until it is cleaned up and removed from the building.
To minimize exposure to this mercury vapor the EPA recommends that residents follow the cleanup and disposal steps described below.
• Have people and pets leave the room.
• Air out the room for 5-10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoor environment.
• Shut off the central forced air heating/air-conditioning (H&AC) system, if you have one.
• Collect materials needed to clean up broken bulb, include:
– Stiff paper or cardboard
– Sticky tape (e.g., duct tape)
– Damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes (for hard surfaces)
– Glass jar with a metal lid (such as a canning jar) or a sealable plastic bag(s)
• Carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place debris and paper/cardboard in a glass jar with a metal lid. If a glass jar is not available, use a sealable plastic bag. (NOTE: Since a plastic bag will not prevent the mercury vapor from escaping, remove the plastic bag(s) from the home after cleanup.)
• Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder. Place the used tape in the glass jar or plastic bag.
• Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place the towels in the glass jar or plastic bag.
• Vacuuming of hard surfaces during cleanup is not recommended unless broken glass remains after all other cleanup steps have been taken.
• Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly. 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.
• Take the bulb in the canning jar to the Hazardous Waste Disposal station at the County Landfill on Wolf Mountain Road.
If you do not have a canning jar on hand, duct tape and a disposable hazmat suit you can buy an kit with all the supplies you need on the Internet. They are not for sale on Amazon yet, as they still have lots of 100 watt bulbs to sell. But, I predict these hazard disposal kits will be available at Amazon and your local hardware store real soon now!
Why was I removing the CFL? I was replacing it with one of those banned 100 watt bulbs I ordered from Amazon. With the California ban on 100 watt bulbs approaching I had ordered a 10 year supply from Amazon. I figured in ten years we would be in the middle of a mini-ice age and the environmentalists in Sacramento will have been run out of office on the point of a pitchfork in the hands of valley farmers. It will be hard to claim global warming when the growing season is so short that only root crops will grow and the only wine grapes will white, as the red will no longer mature before the first freeze. But, I digress.
After the 1 January 2011 ban went into effect I was in Builders and Consumers and checked to see if they had any 100 watt bulbs on the shelves. No 100 watters, just a big empty hole on the shelf. No idea if they sold out, or they were taken off the shelf by management before CARB’s light bulb cops showed up.
Then reality stuck. On the shelf below where the 100 watt bulbs had been was a grand display of 95 watt bulbs, and they were on sale. Someone at Sylvania had a brilliant idea; if the government is going to ban 100 watt bulbs, let's make a 95 watt bulb as the replacement. Maybe 95 watts was safer than 99 watts.
Looking farther down the shelf was a collection of three-way bulbs 50/100/150 watts. Next to those were some 100/200/300 watt three-way bulbs. I am not sure that the government’s ban of 100 watt bulbs is going to save much energy if 95 watt bulbs are the replacement, and the three-ways are still for sale. We really do not have to worry at our house, as we have a ten-year supply of 100 watt bulbs, shipped for free from Amazon, in the storage pantry.
In the next ten years, Californians will force our political leaders to come to their senses and recognize we really do not need dangerous mercury-laden CFLs to save the planet from a non-existant problem. We will no longer have to deal with dangerous mercury-laden bulbs and return to the easy-to-use and maintain incandescent lights. And, I predict that we will all soon be looking forward to warming our hands on those newly-installed 100 watt bulbs as the new ice age glaciers creep closer and closer to California. I have a 100 watt bulb in the reading light next to my chair and not only does it provide enough light that my old eyes need to see the print, it keeps me warm on chilly nights.
By the way, if you break a 100 watt bulb, just get the dust pan and sweep up the broken glass and dump it in the trash bin. As an extra measure you can vacuum up the small chips without worrying about spreading mercury vapor throughout your home with the vacuum cleaner. Duct tape also works well on the broken 100 watt glass shards, if your vacuum is broken, or not in the garage. Long live the 100 watt bulb!
Some exit questions: Do you think that a black market will develop in banned 100 watt light bulbs and the other incandescent light bulbs that will soon be banned? Will incandescent light bulbs become another item for the Transportation Security Administration to be examining your car, or your luggage for when you re-enter the United States?
Russ Steele is a freelance writer who blogs at NC Media Watch where he expands on issues presented here.