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Environmental Health Specialty Unit How to Dispose of a Broken Fluorescent Light Bulb
Environmental Health Specialty Unit How to Dispose of a Broken Fluorescent Light Bulb

Fluorescent light bulbs contain a very small amount of mercury equivalent in size to the tip of a ball point pen. Although small in volume, this is still enough to pose an exposure risk and requires special handling. When bulbs are intact or in use no mercury is released. It is only if they are broken that there is a risk of vapor exposure. When they break it is like a small explosion and results in many tiny glass particles and powders which tend to spread out over a wide area. The US Environmental Protection Agency recommends specific clean-up and disposal guidelines.

Disposing of a Broken Fluorescent Light Bulb

1. Open a window and leave the room for at least 15 minutes. Close any doors leading into the room. Do not allow anyone else or any pets to enter the room during this time.

2. Remove all materials that you can, but DO NOT USE A VACUUM CLEANER!

  • Do not use your bare hands. Wear disposable rubber gloves, if available.
  • Scoop up the glass fragments and powder very carefully with a piece of cardboard or stiff paper.
  • Wipe the entire area with disposable wet wipes or moistened paper towels.
  • You can also use sticky tape, like duct tape, to pick up small pieces of glass and powder.

3. Put all fragments and all clean-up materials in a plastic bag and seal it.

  • Each state has its own regulations regarding the disposal of hazardous substances. If your state permits you to put used or broken fluorescent bulbs in the garbage, seal everything intwo plastic bags and put it into the outside trash bin (if no other disposal or recycling options are available).
  • Wash your hands after disposing of the bag.

4. The first time you vacuum the area where the bulb was broken, remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister) once done cleaning the area and put the bag and/or vacuum debris, as well as the cleaning materials, in two sealed plastic bags in the outdoor trash or in a protected outdoor location for normal disposal.

5. If your state does not allow you to dispose of fluorescent bulbs in your household trash, you will need to contact your trash collection agency or city or state health department for information regarding hazardous waste disposal.


For more information about the use of compact fluorescent bulbs, visit http://www.energystar.gov. For more information about mercury, visit http://www.epa.gov/mercury.

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