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Handling a Broken Fluorescent Bulb

Clean Up/Spills

Fluorescent light bulbs contain a small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing. This mercury does not pose a risk when the bulbs are used. When a fluorescent bulb breaks, some of this mercury is released as mercury vapor. The broken bulb can continue to release mercury vapor until it is cleaned up and removed. To minimize exposure to mercury vapor, it is recommended that you follow the clean-up and disposal steps outlined on this page.

Before Clean Up

  • Have people and pets leave the room and avoid the breakage area.
  • Open a window or door to the outdoors and leave the room for 5-10 minutes.
  • Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning (H&AC) system.
  • Collect materials you will need to clean up the broken bulb:
    • 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)

Clean-up Steps for Hard Surfaces

  • 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 clean up is not recommended unless broken glass remains after all other clean-up steps have been taken. [NOTE: It is possible that vacuuming could spread mercury-containing powder or mercury vapor.] If vacuuming is needed to ensure removal of all broken glass, keep the following tips in mind:
    • Keep a window or door to the outdoors open;  
    • Vacuum the area where the bulb was broken using the vacuum hose, if available; and 
    • Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister) and seal the bag/vacuum debris, as well as any materials used to clean the vacuum, in a plastic bag.
  • Promptly place all bulb debris and clean-up materials, including vacuum cleaner bags, outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly. Contact your local solid waste director or recycling coordinator on how to properly dispose or recycle this material. Some communities offer ongoing collection programs for hazardous household materials while other local programs may hold single-day collection events. To identify your local recycling program contact, Visit Where to Recycle Locally or call the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control's (DHEC) Office of Solid Waste Reduction and Recycling (Office) at 1-800-768-7348.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing bulb debris and cleanup materials.
  • Continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the H&AC system shut off, as practical, for several hours.

Clean-up Steps for Carpeting or Rugs

  • 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.
  • Vacuuming of carpeting or rugs during clean up is not recommended unless broken glass remains after all other clean-up steps have been taken. [NOTE: It is possible that vacuuming could spread mercury-containing powder or mercury vapor.] If vacuuming is needed to ensure removal of all broken glass, keep the following tips in mind:
    • Keep a window or door to the outdoors open;
    • Vacuum the area where the bulb was broken using the vacuum hose, if available, and 
    • Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister) and seal the bag/vacuum debris, and any materials used to clean the vacuum, in a plastic bag.
  • Promptly place all bulb debris and clean-up materials, including vacuum cleaner bags, outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly. Contact your local solid waste director or recycling coordinator for proper disposal or recycling options.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing bulb debris and cleanup materials.
  • Continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the H&AC system shut off, as practical, for several hours.

Future Cleaning of Carpeting and Rugs: Air Out the Room During and After Vacuuming

  • The next several times you vacuum the rug or carpet, shut off the H&AC system if you have one, close the doors to other rooms, and open a window or door to the outside before vacuuming. Change the vacuum bag after each use in this area.
  • After vacuuming is completed, keep the H&AC system shut off and the window or door to the outside open, as practical, for several hours.  
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the source for the information on this page.

Recycling

Consumers should take advantage of recycling options for fluorescent light bulbs where available. Residents in some communities can recycle them through their local recycling programs. Other local programs may hold single-day collection events. For more information, contact your local recycling coordinator or solid waste director. To identify your local recycling program contact, visit Where to Recycle Locally or call the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control's (DHEC) Office of Solid Waste Reduction and Recycling at 1-800-768-7348.

In addition, there are several companies in South Carolina that recycle fluorescent bulbs. 

Businesses are different. They may, in fact, be required by law to recycle their fluorescent bulbs or treat them as hazardous waste. Businesses must follow all state and federal regulations regarding the proper management of fluorescent bulbs. Call DHEC's Division of Compliance and Enforcement at (803) 898-0464 for information on applicable hazardous waste regulations.   

The Home Depot and Lowe's Offer Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL) Recycling Programs

The Home Depot offers a free compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) recycling program at all of its U.S. locations. At each store, customers can bring in any unbroken CFL and give it to the store associate at the returns desk for recycling. To find a store near you, visit www.homedepot.com.

Lowe's also offers a free CFL recycling program at nearly 1,700 stores throughout the United States. At participating locations, customers can bring unbroken CFLs to the recycling center found inside the store entrance. To find a store near you, visit www.lowes.com.

EPA Energy Star Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs) Information (pdf)