Concern about mercury in compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) has recently become an issue based on articles in several magazines and newspapers about potential exposure and clean up costs.

If cleaned up immediately following simple precautions, the breaking of a CFL would not present a significant health hazard.  In fact, the broken glass would present a greater hazard. You do not have to hire an environmental clean up company to clean up a broken CFL.

CFLs do contain a small amount of mercury (approximately 5 milligrams). This is approximately the size of the tip of a ball point pen. There are other sources of mercury in your home that contain significantly more mercury than CFLs (2x - 500x more mercury).  This includes fluorescent light tubes (approximately 12 milligrams for 4' tube), thermostats (approximately 3,000 milligrams) and fever thermometers (approximately 500 - 1,500 milligrams).

People can also be exposed to mercury through the environment. This includes exposure through naturally occurring degassing from the earth, release from power plants, industrial contamination and food consumption (especially fish where through chemical changes the mercury is transformed into methyl mercury, a more toxic form of mercury than the type in CFLs).

The EPA has issued this FAQ to handle the clean-up of CFLs.

If a CFL breaks at the University

  • Follow the EPA clean up and disposal FAQ.
  • Collected the waste in sealed plastic bag and store it in a sturdy box.
  • Label the box with the Rutgers Universal Waste label
  • Mark the box as “Broken Lamp for Disposal”.
  • Dispose of through the University's approved universal waste vendor.

If a CFL should break in your home

  • Follow the EPA clean up and disposal FAQ.
  • Keep small children out of the area until cleaned.
  • Ventilate the area, if possible, by opening a window and using a fan.
  • Broken bulbs should be placed in a sealable plastic bag for disposal.
  • To help protect our environment, broken and burned out CFLs or any other items containing mercury should be disposed of through your county's recycling efforts or hazardous waste drop off locations.

For more information, please visit the EPA website and CFL Mercury FAQ .