Thursday, April 23, 2009

the day after Earth Day

Remember the little guy with the broom following the parade at the end of the intro to The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show? I often picture myself as that little guy.
So after all the great Green Celebration online and in commercial advertising of What We Can Do To Save the Planet for the past few days, and after watching the auditorium in Bay City filled with citizens wearing "Clean Coal" baseball caps and t-shirts touting "Clean Coal = Michigan Jobs" ... I'm feeling a tad cynical.
Note to World: There IS NO Such THING as CLEAN COAL.

Funny, some of the biggest financial supporters of the Wanton Earth-destroyer former president are giving away those energy saving curly light bulbs in their big box stores this week. There has to be a catch.
Ah, yes, mercury.
Invite a curly bulb into your home, invite a mercury contamination site.
Better turn your lights off, or switch to LED fixtures.

If you already have curly bulbs in your home, it might be wise to bone up on the proper way to dispose of these bulbs and how to clean up after breakage. Have a plan.

In case you haven't heard much discussion from your news, or governmental services, or enviro-green-gardening clubs, maybe you can start a local discussion, or at least spread awareness of this small but potentially significant issue.

(UPDATE: I just heard on NPR today the Republican party in Michigan is fighting tougher mercury regulations. But I must admit, politicians on the Right have no lock on stoopid - a prominent local Democrat was there in Bay City touting the air and water for jobs swap deal as well.)

Luckily, a few weeks ago, Sheryl from sent this information on CFL bulb breakage from the Natural Resources Defense Council, to pass along to others.


1) Open a window before cleaning up, and turn off any forced-air heating or air conditioning.

2) Instead of sweeping or vacuuming, which can spread the mercury around,
scoop up the glass fragments and powder. Use sticky tape to pick up remaining glass fragments or powder. Wipe the area clean with a damp paper towel or wet wipes.

Dispose of the broken bulb through your local household hazardous waste program or recycling program. If that service is unavailable in your area, place all clean-up materials in a trash container outside the building.

Wash your hands after cleaning up.

5) If vacuuming is needed afterwards,
when all visible materials have been removed, vacuum the area and dispose of the vacuum bag in a sealed plastic bag. For the next few times you vacuum, turn off any forced-air heating or air conditioning and open a window before doing so.

NOTE: The most common risk of mercury exposure to children comes from canned tuna because kids eat so much of it. Give them chunk light tuna rather than white albacore, since it's lower in mercury, and limit the portions and frequency according to their weight. Pregnant women should do the same. Get guidelines from the NDRC.

UPDATE (2:30 pm): I just opened an email from the Environmental Working Group with added valuable advice on curly light bulb (CFL) cleanup:

Cleaning up broken CFL bulbs
If a bulb breaks in your home, proper clean-up procedures can reduce airborne mercury concentrations by roughly half.

Follow EWG's 10 step clean-up checklist (link).

The most critical steps:
* Keep children and pregnant or nursing women away from the contaminated area.
* Close doors and open windows to allow volatile mercury vapors to vent outdoors. Stay away for 5 to 15 minutes.
* Scoop up bulb fragments and use tape to collect tiny particles. Seal the waste in a glass jar with screw-top lid. (Second choice: a plastic jar with a screw-on lid.)

This point on the EWG 10 point cleanup list is disturbing:

6. If a bulb breaks on a rug or carpeting:

Fabrics are harder to clean than hard surfaces; removing all mercury may be impossible. Hang a CFL-contaminated rug outside. Experts disagree on whether to vacuum carpeting. EPA recommends doing so and cleaning the vacuum afterward. Scientists with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection disagree: after testing various CLF cleanup scenarios [link], they concluded that vacuuming can spread mercury vapor and permanently contaminate the vacuum.

Keep infants, children and women of childbearing age away from the carpeting for several weeks.

Disposing of spent CFL bulbs
Each state has its own laws and regulations for recycling or disposing of spent CFL bulbs. Learn about your state's recycling and disposal options at this EPA lightbulb site
Also,, a nationwide recycling information site, lists retailers like Ace Hardware, Home Depot and IKEA and municipal programs that accept burnt-out CFLs.

And, if you've ever had a thermometer or thermostat break ... the EWG adds:
"Thermometers, thermostats and silent switches made with mercury contain more toxic material and pose a much greater health risk. If one of these items breaks, read EPA's clean-up instructions at:"

The EWG website also has a thoughtful discussion on proper placement of CFLs in the home - don't put them in children's rooms, recreation rooms, or workshops where breakage is more likely. Don't put them in pole lamps. Don't use them in rooms with valuable carpets.

There is a buying guide on the EWG website as well, listing the bulbs with the least mercury in them. Check out the EWG Green Lighting guide for more discussion (a .pdf link is at the EWG site here).


keewee said...

Thank you for posting on how to take care of a broken light bulb, many folks do not know how to clean one these up safely.

Vera said...

thanks for the info about the bulbs. from one Michigan Mamma to another. :)

beth said...

Wow. I enjoyed the betsy home garden very much. It was nice going through it. keep it up the good work.