Mercury and compact fluorescent lamps
Compact fluorescent lamps (also known as CFLs or energy-saving light globes) are a common lighting choice in Australia since the Australian Government began to phase-out the use of incandescent light bulbs in 2008.
How compact fluorescent lamps work
The white powder coating inside the glass tubing of a CFL contains a fluorescent coating. When electricity enters a CFL, mercury and argon fumes inside the bulb produce invisible ultraviolet (UV) light. This UV light reacts with the fluorescent coating to produce the white, visible light you see when you turn on a CFL. As there is a slight delay in the transfer of UV energy, the light produced by the CFL start off dim and becomes brighter with time.
Compact fluorescent bulbs contain small quantities of mercury. As a CFL is used, up to 60 per cent of the mercury inside the bulb can be bound to the fluorescent coating on the glass.
Are there health hazards when using compact fluorescent lamps?
Overall the health risks are very low due to the small amount of mercury present. Most CHLs contain fewer than 5 mg of mercury. As a comparison, this amount is about the same as the amount of ink found on the tip of a ballpoint pen.
Only very small amounts of mercury are found as fumes in CFLs and there is very little risk to healthy humans of any age.
If a compact fluorescent lamps breaks
When a CFL is broken, the mercury fumes are released and disperse rapidly. This further reduces the likelihood of any significant exposure to mercury.
Studies have shown that if a CFL breaks the mercury levels dissipate quickly when the room is ventilated. By the time the room is cleared and clean-up materials are gathered, the small amount of mercury in the fumes will have diluted enough that it will no longer pose a health risk.
Clean-up guidelines for broken compact fluorescent lamps
Ensure young children leave the immediate area of the broken CFL quickly and safely.
- use bare hands to clean up the broken glass – wear disposable plastic gloves to avoid direct contact with the powder coatings on the broken pieces of glass
- use a vacuum cleaner, which can trap and spread the mercury.
- Scoop up broken material (using stiff paper or cardboard) or use a disposable brush to carefully sweep up the pieces.
- Carefully place pieces of glass into a container which can be sealed, or wrap in paper to protect anyone from possible cuts from broken glass.
- Use sticky tape and/or a damp cloth to wipe up any remaining glass fragments and/or powders. For carpets or fabrics, carefully remove as much glass and/or powdered material using a scoop and sticky tape. If vacuuming of the surface is needed to remove waste material, ensure that the vacuum bag is throw away or the canister thoroughly wiped clean.
- Dispose of cleanup equipment (for example, gloves, brush, or paper) in sealed containers. Always place broken CFLs in the general green topped rubbish bin, never in your recycling bin.
Local council or shire arrangements for hazardous goods collections
Selected metropolitan businesses and local councils have hazardous goods recycling collection points (external sites).
Some local government councils have installed special collection centres to dispose of CFLs. These specialised collection stations allow for the easy disposal of:
- old mobile phones
- compact fluorescent lamp globes and tubes
- printer cartridges
- household dry cell batteries.
Contact your local government authority (external site) to confirm if a program is in place in your community.
When a specialised collection is not available
Most metropolitan rubbish collection bins now send items in green bins to landfill and in the yellow-topped bins to recycling centres.
Do not place CFLs in your household recycling bin for collection (these are usually yellow-topped bins). As CFLs can break during transport and contaminate other recyclable items they are not considered appropriate for the recycle bins that are supplied for individual households.
Do put broken CFLs into the general household (usually green topped) rubbish bins. Wrap the used CFLs to prevent breakages and place in the general household rubbish bin when a specialised collection station is not available.
Email the Environmental Health Directorate or phone 9388 4999.
- Compact fluorescent bulbs contain only small quantities of mercury.
- It is still recommend you follow safe clean-up guidelines when cleaning up a broken CFL.
This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.