Mercury exposure from compact fluorescent lights

A commenter on a previous post asked about potential mercury exposure from broken compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). There are also various stories floating around the internet (such as this one) about the dangers of mercury in CFLs. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to look at how much mercury someone could be exposed to from a broken CFL, and whether there were any risks from that level of exposure.

A CFL typically contains about 4 mg of mercury (according to US EPA); a lot of newer CFLs contain 1 mg or less. I’ll look at the worst-case exposure, so let’s go with 4 mg of mercury in a bulb. In reality that mercury isn’t going to all be in the air right away – the evaporation rate of mercury is about 56 micrograms per hour per square centimetre – but figuring out the rate at which it enters the air requires assumptions about the area covered by the spilled mercury, temperature, pressure, etc. To keep things simple and to make sure I’m considering the absolute worst case, I’ll assume that all of that mercury instantly volatilizes.

After the mercury is released into the air, two things are going to happen. First, it will spread out, occupying a larger volume of air. Second, air movement in and out of the room will remove mercury over time. So let’s look at a couple of specific scenarios:

1. Let’s assume that right after the bulb breaks a person bends down to pick up the pieces. To keep the math simple I’ll say the mercury has spread into a volume of 1 m3 at this stage – large enough that the person’s head is within the affected volume and representing pretty much a worst-case exposure. In reality the mercury concentration within this 1 m3 volume would be highest right next to the floor (presuming the broken bulb is on the floor) and decreasing as you go up, but again to keep it simple and look at an absolute worst-case I’ll simplify things and pretend the mercury is evenly mixed over that entire 1 m3. The resulting concentration would be 4 mg mercury per m3 air. This concentration would not last very long at all and represents a worst-case instantaneous exposure.

2. If the CFL bulb broke in a fairly standard-sized bedroom (around 3 m x 3 m x 2.4 m, or 21.6 m3 – I’ll round down to 20 m3), then over time the mercury would mix throughout the volume of the room, with an average concentration of 4/20 = 0.25 mg/m3. However, air is also going to move in and out of the room (and the house). Even at the low end in winter with windows closed, an air exchange rate of about 1 air change per 3 hours is fairly conservative, so about 1/3 of the mercury would be removed after every hour. Therefore after 1 hour the concentration would be 0.17 mg/m3, after 2 hours it would be 0.11 mg/m3, after 3 hours it would be 0.074 mg/m3, and so on.

These concentrations are probably unrealistically high, since I’ve assumed all of the mercury instantly volatilized. A more realistic concentration would consider the evaporation rate (56 μg/h/cm2). The volume of 4 mg mercury would be about 0.0003 cm3; if it formed a hemispherical drop (probably a reasonable approximation) the exposed surface area would be about 0.017 cm2. Assuming room temperature and sea-level atmospheric pressure, the concentration in the bedroom would peak at about 0.0003 mg/m3 (again based on mixing throughout the bedroom; concentrations would be higher if you put your head right next to the mercury on the floor).

So now we have a very conservative prediction of how much mercury could be in the air under worst-case conditions. What does this mean in terms of potential for effects? The infamous National Post story I mentioned above talked about a Maine Department of Environmental Protection employee comparing concentrations measured in a bedroom to a state exposure limit of 0.0003 mg/m3. This exposure limit is actually the US Environmental Protection Agency “reference concentration” (RfC). However, if a Maine DEP employee really was using this value here, that employee is utterly incompetent or at least unqualified for that sort of assessment – it is a completely inappropriate value to use. The RfC is a conservative estimate of the average concentration you could be breathing in over your entire life without expecting any adverse effects. I’ve seen some other evaluations use occupational exposure limits – again this isn’t ideal, since they’re based on a worker being exposed every day over their working career.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry compiled data on short-term exposures to mercury vapours. The data on short-term human exposures are fairly limited, but measurable effects were associated with very high mercury exposures (of the cases where concentrations were known, they exceeded 40 mg/m3). There are also some animal studies using short-term exposures; generally effects were only observed at concentrations above about 27 mg/m3. The one exception is developmental toxicity; there were a couple of animal studies showing that when pregnant rats were exposed to concentrations as low as about 0.05 mg/m3 over 6 or 7 days at a key stage of foetal brain development, their offspring were hyperactive and showed effects on spatial learning.

Overall, a broken CFL bulb won’t result in mercury concentrations in air anywhere near as high as the concentrations at which effects on humans or even animals have been observed. However, given that mercury is a known developmental toxin, and since concentrations could be higher very close to the spill or after disturbance (e.g. during cleanup), it’s probably not a bad idea for pregnant women to avoid cleaning up broken CFL bulbs if possible; there probably wouldn’t be an effect but it doesn’t hurt to err on the side of caution if possible.

The commenter I mentioned at the beginning of this post mentioned a different scenario where her husband drove in a car for 3 months in winter with a case of broken bulbs. A study of air exchange rates of stationary vehicles suggests between 1 and 3 exchanges per hour with windows closed and no ventilation, or between 1.8 and 3.7 exchanges per hour with windows closed and the fan on recirculation; a compact car has an interior volume of about 3 m3. If the case had 12 CFLs, that would be a total of 48 mg of mercury potentially released; if it was released all at once this would result in an initial concentration of about 16 mg/m3 which would rapidly decrease. Again this mercury probably would not be volatilized to the air all at once though. Rather mercury would be released gradually over time. It’s honestly almost impossible to calculate the likely concentrations, particularly without knowing things like the temperature, how the car was used, etc. If we assume room temperature (e.g. the heater was on) and that each bulb resulted in a hemispherical mercury drop as described above, then a concentration as high as about 0.004 mg/m3 could be calculated, but there are so many assumptions and unknown variables that I wouldn’t want to rely on that number. The concentration probably isn’t in the range where short-term effects are likely, but there are so many unknowns I wouldn’t feel comfortable making predictions about long-term effects, particularly if the driver was spending long periods of time in the car.

64 Responses to Mercury exposure from compact fluorescent lights

  1. CFLs do save energy, but they also contain small amounts of mercury. It is important for consumers to realize that CFLs and fluorescent bulbs contain mercury and require special handling. The mercury vapor can be detrimental to handlers’ health—from those involved with handling new bulbs to people involved with storing, packaging and shipping used lamps. Mercury vapor, which can be absorbed through the skin or inhaled, can cause neurological damage, and when it gets into water, it can enter the food chain through fish. Read more about the dangers of mercury exposure here:

    If a bulb is broken or burns out, it should be properly cleaned up and recycled—it should not be disposed of in landfills. To reduce the risk for mercury vapor exposure, CFLs and fluorescent lamps should be safely handled, stored and transported to recycling facilities in a package that is proven to effectively contain hazardous mercury vapor. Find out more about how to minimize environmental risks and safely package CFLs here:
    If a bulb breaks, consumers can learn more about clean-up procedures here:

  2. ashartus says:

    I was tempted to not approve this comment (it was flagged by the spam filter and is a thinly-disguised ad for a commercial product), but decided to let it through in the interests of free speech and open discussion.

    The mercury in CFLs is not enough to be a health concern in most circumstances, as detailed in the post. I also followed up on the links; really they were more related to commercial fluorescent lamps and not CFL bulbs, though there isn’t that much more mercury in a commercial lamp. However, the study referenced on these pages about mercury concentrations from broken bulbs was really poorly designed and would significantly over-predict concentrations due to the use of a sealed chamber, which doesn’t reflect real-world conditions (it would be one thing if the study acknowledged this limitation , but it doesn’t – possibly since it was funded by manufacturers of special packing for fluorescent bulbs who have a vested interest in people thinking a broken bulb will result in hazardous concentrations…). Another example of why acceptance in a peer-reviewed publication does not guarantee a high quality study.

  3. johnwhitelaw says:

    Thank you for posting a thoughtful and informed analysis of the actual health risks associated with CFLs!

  4. Randi says:

    Thank you for writing such an informative article. I hope you have time to respond to my query. We brought home a package of 1 CFL from my mom’s 5 days ago – we brought it home in a bag with stuffed animals, coloring books, crayons for my 2 and 4 year old. When we got home I put the package on a high shelf in the kitchen – not realizing it was broken! It sat up there for 5 days, no ventilation at all. Last night my husband went to get the light bulb and a few tiny shards and dust fell out of the package! We immediately cleaned the whole kitchen with wet paper towels. But if the package broke in transit, could it have contaminated everything in the bag and the car? And if so, how should we proceed? I threw all the stuff out, but only after the kids played with the stuffed animals and books all over the house. Again, the package appeared closed but when picked up, a few small shards and dust fell out and room was unventilated for 5 days. Could the package have contained the vapor or would a slit be enough for it to escape? We are beyond worried about how it might have affected our kids and how the particles may have been spread through our house. Also, your article is the first I’ve found that has mentioned cars. If it broke in the car, would the kids have been harmfully exposed and do they continue to be? We were driving at night when it happened with the windows closed and the heat on. Thank you so much for your time.

    • ashartus says:

      If it was just one CFL I wouldn’t be too worried. Even if the other stuff in the bag was contaminated,there probably wasn’t enough mercury to have an effect. Remember that mercury is a naturally occurring substance and we are all exposed to a certain amount every day – it’s when we get abnormally high exposures that there are problems. For a single CFL, I think your steps were more than adequate (I probably would’ve just washed the stuffed animals, not thrown everything out). There isn’t really enough mercury in a CFL to be of concern for anyone except possibly pregnant women and very young babies (and even there it’s more precautionary). A single CFL breaking in a car shouldn’t be a problem – the case I mentioned in the article was about an entire case of them breaking.

  5. Thank you so much for your well written, informative and level headed article. I broke a CFL bulb last night and it was my son who showed me how to clean it up properly. But all day today I have remained uneasy and I’ve left the front door open (the bulb broke in the foyer) in 16F degree weather with the heat off (to keep it from circulating throughout the rest of the house) in an effort to air out the foyer. Of course I did this last night as well for 2.5 hrs. Overkill maybe? lol! Thank you again. You have made me feel much better.

  6. John says:

    Very good article, i would really appreciate it if you could give your opinion on a few questions I have. Have you ever read the Maine CFL study ?
    They actually broke bulbs and measured the mercury vapor levels. Do they seem dangerous to you?

    Some of the scenarios break the OSHA .1 mg/m3 ceiling (not to be surpassed ever) could this cause poisoning to a child?

    There doesn’t seem to be a reference level other than the 300 ng/m3, nothing for residential with children around so I see why they used it but I see why you say it is too low a level to use for a short term exposure.

    Also the SHER reviewed the study and determined there was a low risk to an adult but they punted when determining risk to a child because “no studies exist” and they say they can’t determine risk because children may ingest elemental mercury after bulb is cleaned up on contaminated dust through hand to mouth actions. This sounds really scary to me. Could you give me some perspective on the risk of this to a child playing in the area that a cfl broke in? Maybe a comparison or two?

    Also how far could contamination go in our home. The first cleanup instructions I read said (health canada) nothing about being able to contaminate clothing or other things with mercury but as I kept reading i found other instructions that say you can contaminate your clothing and your washing machine, but by the time we read that it was days later so i dont know what is contaminated. Will all our clothing be contaminated?

    We vacuumed when my toddler broke one. And brought me a little piece of it (and i was 5 feet from him but not looking that direction) and none of us left the room for 5-10 minutes until after it was vacuumed up and I read online that we were not supposed to have vacuumed and we were supposed to have evacuated. We then opened windows, shut off the heat and left the main floor for an hour or so and took showers. How bad was this for my kids? Especially since my toddler went close enough to pick up a piece when the vapor levels would have been the highest? Plus we don’t know what we touched after touching the bulb with bare hands because we didnt know at first it was this toxic. Did we contaminate other things? Also we wiped down the floor with wet cloth’s later that night but we were in there walking around the rest of the day before this after only having vacuumed. Did we spread it to other rooms on our socks?

    How contaminated is our home?

    • John says:

      I know your busy but I can’t seem to find anyone who knows anything about this.

      • stacey says:

        did you ever get your answer? just curious….were there any health issues for your toddler? I know it’s been over 3 years now that i’m sure you aren’t even thinking about it anymore (or hope you aren’t!) we broke one in our kitchen last night and i have a 2 year old and a 6 year old and i’m stressing out trying to clean everything, without using the vacuum anywhere near where it was etc. and i didn’t evacuate either. I picked it right up without any mask or anything. 😦

    • Brooke says:

      John- please contact me at

      I’m going thru the exact same thing! Maybe we can help each other!

  7. B Barnes says:

    The scenario I would like to have input with regards to is as follows:
    The cfl bulb is in a fixture which refines a person to climb a ladder and reach over his or her head to change the bulb. while doing so the bulb breaks causing the powder in the bulb to shower down in the face of the person changing the bulb. It gets in the person’s open eyes, open mouth and is breathed into the person’s lungs. Thus the exposure is a) absorption into the system via direct contact with the eyes, b) ingestion by mouth, c) absorption via lungs both at initial breath as the powder was in the air while the person looked upwards toward the light fixture as the bulb broke and subsequent breaths as the powder is on the person’s skin of the face, lips, hair, hands, arms, clothing and d) absorption through the skin of the person’s face, neck, hands and arms.

    What level of exposure could a person receive in this scenario?

    I experienced this specific scenario and had a number of symptoms that followed. Bad taste in my mouth like I was constantly sucking on pennies. An intense wave of nausea about to minutes after the exposure that lessened only slightly but never went away for days for which I ultimately required prescription nausea medicine, A nearly immediate loss of motility lasting 4-6 weeks. The only way I could eliminate stool was by ingesting the OTC liquid used to cleanse in preparation for a colonoscopy plus miralax plus a prescription medication for constipation plus high fiber content foods plus a fiber supplement AND regular use of FIeet’s anemas.

    Eventually the bad taste went away and normal motility returned. I continue to have waves of intense nausea or more mild nausea that lasts for several days.

    The exposure happened on Feb 13 and today is May 18.

    • ashartus says:

      I don’t think it would be easy to calculate the exact exposure (and I definitely don’t have time these days which is why this blog is pretty much inactive). Maybe a worse case assumption would be that the entire mercury content of the bulb (1 to 4 mg) enters the body. For an average-sized adult (around 70 kg) that would be about 0.015 to 0.06 mg per kg body weight. That’s kind of in what I consider a grey area – there aren’t any reliable studies showing clear effects in humans or animals at that level of short-term exposure but given the limitations in the available studies and protecting for people who might be unusually sensitive it’s a higher exposure than we’d normally allow in public health situations. The actual exposure would probably be quite a bit lower than that but not easy to figure out exactly.

  8. Rambosteeler says:

    Simply wonderful blog! Very informative and relieving esp for a hypochondriac like me.

    I had a broken cfl incident about 3 weeks ago. I was changing the bulb in my room of the new apartment, which had nothing but this floor lamp with an extended arc arm ( of which I was changing the bulb). The bulb then broke and a few shattered pieces fell on the carpeted floor. I was about 1 to 1.5 feet away from the bulb when it broke and not in line of shatter spill. At that time, I wasn’t aware of the risk and hence didn’t bother to move out of the room. I just picked up the shattered pieces from the carpet floor and the bulb itself (which never fell down and was still in my hand) and disposed them after a short while. I visually inspected carefully for any glass pieces and made sure there was nothing visible at least to the naked eye. I don’t remember the windows being open, but they may just have been a little open with the blinds closed. I didn’t vacuum the carpet then because I didn’t have a vacuum cleaner in my new apartment and not because I thought it was harmful (I didn’t know it was harmful then). Not knowing, I slept that night in the same room, with A/C on and left the next day on some work out of town for three weeks with window and door of my room closed (The A/C was on though since my roommates were there). I returned on last Sunday (24th) and slept in the same room with door open. Only yesterday my roommate told that it was harmful when I casually mentioned it to him. I feared the invisible shattered powder would still be there (without having any way to confirm if it was actually there), I decided to vacuum up the entire floor with small suction fixture of the vacuum cleaner just to be safe. Only then I read that vacuuming was really bad on the EPA website. I have since then been extremely worried, and could not sleep all night thinking that vacuum cleaner would have spread the vapours all across the room. I would be really grateful if you could please tell me if I am ok to continue on in this room or inform the landlord to get the carpet changed. I’m really worried now thinking if I’ll have any long term effects. Please give me your thoughts on this. Thanks!

  9. Stephanie says:

    I had two energy lights break over my head. dust was everywhere . not sure if breathed in or not. recieved about 25 or more small cuts and one large cut on bottom of foot requiering five stiches. should i be concerned

  10. says:

    The bathroom bulb broke while I was in the shower, on my way out, while avoiding the splinter I think I might step on probable some dust, because my foot bottom felt funny then, I had place some eucalyptus oil on it and place it on a towel, the put the towel in the washing machine. Then my husband came and clean it up using a broom and hand towel. Do you think we could be exposed?

  11. So I have had anxiety for hours now…Like Rambosteeler, I was not aware of the dangers either, only I am certain that I breathed in the vapors for at least 3 minutes if not longer being directly under it and looking up about 1 foot away…I was trying to remove the bulb from the can in my kitchen ceiling, it seemed to be extremely stuck in there…it cracked while I was trying to unscrew it, two tiny pieces fell to the ground…they were about the size of an eraser on a pencil…not knowing mercury vapors were being released I continued looking up (breathing the vapors I assume) and tried to gently remove the bulb…Well, it wasn’t coming off, so I went to my computer and googled several sites that had ideas of how to remove a broken bulb. So as I found an idea, I went back to the kitchen, climbed the ladder and tried that idea…I was going back and forth from the pc to the bulb at least 5 times…some times being right under it for up to 3 or 4 minutes at a time…one of the things being to put duct tape on both sides of the bulb and try unscrewing it by pulling the tape down and towards the left…since that didn’t work, I just wrapped the tape around the entire bottom half of the bulb, completely covering the crack and much of the bulb. Right after doing that, I tried putting a rubber gripper thingy inside of a towel, then with the gripper facing the bulb and the towel under it I tried to twist it off since the tape already had covered the broken bulb…well the entire bottom part of the bulb was crushed inside of the duct tape….but the top part of the bulb was not covered, so the vapors I’m sure were escaping from the top portion of the bulb…Finally, I decided to change my search because these ideas weren’t working and specified “cfl” bulb…this is when I saw someone give a warning about what to do if the bulb breaks. I immediately went into panic mode because I knew that I had been up there a long time with this bulb…and now it had shattered inside the tape…I didn’t see anything fall out this time. I opened my windows and turned on the ceiling fan to help move the air out and went outside, for awhile, but that was a little too late I’m sure…my son was already outside, thank God. So, after I came back in I was sitting in the house with this broken bulb and frantically looking for ways to get this thing out of my house. I decided to tape a freezer bag around the bulb, then proceeded to loosen the can in the ceiling. When I gently pulled the can down the entire bulb popped out…OMGosh…it was a 4 pinned bulb!!! When our contractor built the house, he did a lot of things without telling me..this was one of them…I had no idea I could have simply pulled this bulb out! It looks just like all the other cfl bulbs we have. So I was thankful that I could not get that thing out of the house…I sealed it in the ziplock bag and put it outside and threw away the gripper and towel too.

    The reason for my anxiety is because I am WELL AWARE of the dangers of mercury. I have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue…I have constant lung problems due to allergies that bring on asthma that sometimes gets so bad it leads to bronchiolitis that sometimes leads to pneumonia…I just spent 6 weeks getting over pneumonia. I have been researching the causes for my symptoms for a couple of years and the best that I can tell, the root cause my be my amalgam (mercury) fillings. I have been trying to figure out how to get them removed from a safe amalgam removal dentist, but it is so expensive! Now this!!

    A WORD OF CAUTION ABOUT CILANTRO!!! Cilantro only “binds” heavy metals…if you do not have a *carrier* to export the metals out of your body, the metals will move to another area which is now even more dangerous because you just brought an abundance of metals in one spot and now ALL of that metal is going to be concentrated to where ever it ends up…hopefully not the heart, brain or vital organ. There are several things that will help move the metals out, but many of them are dangerous…Be careful about doing things just because someone on the internet said to.

    The more I research, the more I am finding that almost everything has a danger to it…so read up and pick your poison. Activated charcoal has its problems, the concoction your naturopath recommends is probably the most dangerous as it puts you at risk for serious side effects…I forgot what it’s called, but it’s some kind of chealated mix…there are two types. The best that I have found (and don’t take my word for it because I’m not done researching this) is cilantro with chlorella. But NEVER take cilantro by itself.

    I’m sorry this is so long but I wanted to give the details so you could maybe evaluate my risk.

    What do you think I should do? (besides take cilantro) and How bad do think my situation is???

    Thank you,


    • ashartus says:

      A single bulb isn’t likely to be a huge concern; while you may have spent several minutes close to the bulb, any released mercury would likely have dispersed pretty quickly in that scenario. Concerns from mercury usually come from either much higher exposures, or prolonged (weeks/years) exposures.

  12. Oops…I needed to edit a couple of things…I meant that “So I was thankful that I COULD get that thing out of the house.


    “the best that I can tell, the root cause MAY be my amalgam (mercury) fillings”.

  13. Concerned says:

    I’m concerned that my family and I have been chronically exposed to mercury.

    Several days ago, I was replacing the cfl light bulb that was in my night stand lamp to an LED light bulb when I noticed a small blemish near the left prong of the cfl light bulb. The cfl light bulb looked intact and was working, but there was a bit of glass and white powder attached to the outside of the cfl light bulb (i.e. the blemish). It looked like another light bulb was attached to the intact light bulb and then was removed leaving the blemish. There was dry white powder stuck to the blemish from the outside. The powder was not floating around, but it was on the outside (not encased in glass).

    I contacted poison control for the area where we live; and was advised that this small exposure will not harm us, but I’m still concerned. Poison control also advised me that since the cfl light bulb had been in the lamp for several years, I didn’t need to do any cleaning other than to double bag the cfl light bulb and wipe down the night stand. No other cleaning was required including no need to clean the fabric lamp shade.

    I now recall that I did noticed the blemish when I replaced the incandescent light bulb that was in the lamp with the cfl light bulb several years ago; however, at the time, I forgot that cfl light bulbs contained mercury and just cleaned up the white powder that I saw on the night stand after I installed the cfl light bulb like it was just regular dust. I should also mention that I never open the window in my bedroom or really any other windows in our home because we live in a new division and there is constant construction going on; and that over the years, I would’ve cross contaminated surfaces by wiping with the same swifter duster and left cups of water and other items (creams) on the night stand which we consumed or used regularly.

    I would like to know if this would constitute a chronic exposure to mercury. Furthermore, I was quick shocked when I noticed the blemish this time around and do not recall how carefully I was wiping down the night stand and the items on the night stand; and whether any powder was floating around this time. Do I need to worry about cleaning and throwing stuff out including the fabric lamp shade or the clothing that I was wearing.

    Thank you for your time.

  14. ashartus says:

    I wouldn’t be worried about a situation like that. There isn’t that much mercury in a CFL and it’s volatile enough that it wouldn’t be sticking around as dust after that long.

    • Concerned says:

      Thank you very much for your respond. I really appreciated it.

      May I please ask another question? In addition to changing out the cfl light bulb in my night stand lamp about two weeks ago, I also changed out five flood type cfl light bulbs in my kitchen (spiral bulbs encased in heavy glass like material). These light bulbs were intact and slightly warm, because they had been in used prior to changing. Having read that mercury vapour posed the most immediate danger if breakage occurs, I decided to place these light bulbs into two plastic garbage bags, put the bags into a lidless bucket, place a piece of cardboard on top of the bucket, and then put the whole thing into another plastic bag. Then, I took the bucket outside and placed it on a snow covered flower bed along the outside wall of my detached garage in the backyard since it was night time and the recycle center was not open. The next morning, when I discovered the blemish cfl light bulb, I double bagged it in Ziploc; then, I went outside, opened up the outside bag, and placed the blemish cfl light bulb into the bucket as well.

      I was pleased with the precautions that I took until it occurred to me that the bulbs might have broken because of the change in temperature. It was about minus 8 degrees Celsius that night and the bulbs were warm to the touch when I placed them into the bucket. Over the past two weeks, the temperatures have gotten colder hovering between minus 14 and minus 25 degrees Celsius.

      I thought that it would be safer to have the bulbs outside, but now I have my doubts since placing the bulbs outside might have caused them to crack or break.

      Since the bulbs were outside would the vapour get dispersed quickly enough not to buildup to unsafe level for children should the bulbs break? I’m concerned that the vapours could enter the garage door or our back door.

      I’m also pondering how to transport these bulbs to the recycle center if they’ve become broken. I’ve since purchased a heavy plastic Home Depot bucket with a lid and will place the lidless bucket into it. Will this be enough to secure safe transport? That’s why I’ve been delayed in recycling.

      I did not want to bother you again, but these concerns have been on my mind.

      Thank you very much.

      • ashartus says:

        If it’s outside I really can’t see the vapour concentrations getting anywhere close to levels of concern, particularly at low temperatures. There just isn’t that much mercury in the bulbs and it would get diluted pretty quickly in outside air. Your proposed precautions for recycling are probably overkill but yes sealing them in the bucket would be plenty secure enough.

  15. Concerned says:

    Thank you very much for your kindness in responding a second time.

    • Janet says:

      Question since you’re still answering and we have a 9 mo baby

      In Nov. while we were at grandmas she broke a CFL bulb and cleaned it up all wrong… Vacuumed, left the bulb lying in the house all night, didn’t ventilate, left heat running. The baby and I were on the other side of the house so I’m assuming he was ok, right? However, the room has carpet and it’s the room we are supposed to be staying in this summer. My googling says it can emit vapors from carpet for several months but I don’t know what that means… 2,4, 6? Any insight at all? I wouldn’t worry at all about me but he’s so tiny. Anything to be done to clean the carpet? Some sites say if there’s a baby to cut out carpeting but she won’t do that. Just want to err on the side of caution

      • ashartus says:

        Honestly I wouldn’t get stressed about a bulb broken that long ago – there isn’t enough mercury in these bulbs for me to get concerned after that much time from a single bulb. If you’re worried, maybe give the carpet a good vacuum and wash first just to get anything residual out.

  16. Gail kELL says:

    hi first i would like to ask what are your qualifications again not to affend you just to add to my comfort and peice of mind i have a question hope someone can answer had a handyman put twenty to twenty five crushed cfls under my mobile home to try to keep animals away now the mobile home has a skirting with about fifteen small vents do you think i am suppose to open my windows or do you think close them will the vapor rise, we had some hundred degree days i and will it all vaporise or will it amalamate or whatever i will never be able to clean it up how long will they vaporize

    • ashartus says:

      Hi Gail. As far as my qualifications, I have a graduate degree in toxicology (among other qualifications) and I’ve been doing science consulting for many years. However recognize that this is a blog that I did in my free time (back when I had some…) and the pieces here don’t have the rigour of the scientific reports I do in my paid job. I don’t think there’s nearly enough information to answer your question, if you’re concerned probably the best thing would be to have someone qualified collect an air sample for mercury under your home on a reasonably hot day.

  17. Max says:


    Sir, fantastic post …

    So I did something stupid, I received a water UV filter … and during transport bulb broke inside chamber.

    After receiving it I was sitting in garage shaking the pieces of bulb out of the chamber, not knowing that it contains mercury 😦

    I put my clothes with some other stuff in a washing machine, HOT program .. clothes was possibly contaminated with mercury – does this mean that my washer is now hazmat?, and all the clothes with it …

    What about garage its possible the mercury dispersed all over all the little holes etc… what should be my next steps …

    I’m being paranoid … 🙂

    Thank you!

    • ashartus says:

      Just one bulb? I wouldn’t get too stressed about it.

      • Max says:

        Thank you,

        Correct just one bulb, not sure how much mercury they contain comparing to CFL.

        What about if the mercury amount was like in an old thermother ?

        All this mercury is lingering under the bedroom in garage, I couldn’t find any balls to collect them and dispose, so I have to assume that they will just stay there.

        Is there any risk from the vapor of that amount staying there and evaporating permantly ?

        And thank you again, for offering this free advice, not sure how I can Re pay you… I own IT consulting company if I can ever do anything for you … I would be more then happy!

      • Max says:

        Manufacturer got back to me saying that they contain 10-15 mg of mercury that I couldn’t locate … I guess that is a lot more, what are your thoughts ?

        Thank you

  18. ashartus says:

    That’s more than the average CFL bulb but still not an excessive amount. If it’s in your garage I presume you can leave it open for a bit to air out? If it were me I’d probably give the garage a good sweep with the outer door open to make sure I got most of it out. If you’re really concerned you could have an air test done but I doubt if there’d be anything left. Getting rid of the source (i.e. the remaining debris) and letting a lot of air move through the garage will clean things up. You can also look at the US EPA guidance on cleaning up CFLs:

  19. stacey says:

    Last night, I broke a CFL green holiday “party bulb” in my kitchen. I knew enough not to use a vacuum and to wipe it down with paper towel and to dispose of it BUT i didn’t wear a mask and i didn’t air it out and evacuate for 15-20 minutes first, i just immediately cleaned it up. lt was just one bulb. Should i be concerned? I also have a 2 year old and a 6 year old that were sleeping upstairs and now i won’t let them in the kitchen until i feel like i wipe the entire kitchen down! (am i being totally paranoid?!) How far do these ‘vapors’ spread and do they settle on things…like should i be rewashing all of the dishes and glasses in the cupboards and wiping down the counters on the other side of the kitchen too and how far from the actual spill/break can i vacuum? Again, I’m imagining in my head this powdery vapor spreading and settling all over the place and I’m making myself nuts!!!
    I know this is an old blog so i hope you see it! It looks like you’ve still answered some questions recently 🙂

  20. ashartus says:

    Just one bulb? I think what you’ve done should be fine. Again there isn’t that much mercury in these bulbs. Wouldn’t hurt to wipe down the area where you broke it again to make sure. Mercury vapours are fairly dense so I wouldn’t expect them to travel very far.

  21. Bronwyn Cole says:

    Hi, I am sure my baby will be fine, looking at your responses to other people, but I would like to ask one thing. My husband dropped a bulb on our hardwood floors. I have read the Maine study and am confident there are no more vapors in the house at the dangerous level. However, the study did report that, when agitated, the place where the bulb landed can still emit mercury vapors for weeks afterward, at a level of over 300ng. My question is, is it ok for my child to crawl in this area? It is right in the middle of our living room, and unavoidable. I know there will remain some low levels of mercury on the flooring, but I cannot find any information about safe levels for babies. Thanks.

    • ashartus says:

      Hi Bronwyn, I wouldn’t get too stressed about that. The limits I talk about already include sensitive age groups. What I might suggest (largely from the perspective of erring on the side of caution) is perhaps keeping your baby away from that location right after you wash the floor, at least the first couple of times, just in case there’s any increased mercury emission during the agitation. I don’t think there’d be any likely effect from that but it’s a simple enough precaution for some added peace of mind.

    • John hayword says:

      One cfl bulb can cause health issues if it’s left broken in the right circumstances. Say there’s a broken cfl under the bed you don’t know about in the winter and both you and your spouse are inhaling the vapors throughout the winter with the heater on. In that case, there is a possibility that there will  be health effects especially if one of you has a genetic weaknesses with your detox capability. Children are especially vunerable because they are still in their developmental stages of life. Once mercury enters the body it can alter the endocrine system causing development issues by its binding action to endocrine glands. If a cfl was to break it only releases vapor up to 3 and half months until all of it released. So in that case contaminated objects from cfl mercury powder will also emit limited vapors if they had come into contact with cfl glass shards. If your curious about your homes air quality you can always rent a “Jerome mercury analyzer” to see if your air is mercury free. If there is a cfl breakage the best thing to do is to buy sulfur powder and scatter it over the contaminated surface. Mercury binds extremely tight to sulfur atoms and this stops vapors from emitting because it gets  bound to sulfur . Sulfur can be purchased at home improvement stores or you could use MSM sulfur powder from health stores.

  22. Ahmed says:

    Could you please help me because I’m freaking out…. A few days ago I stepped on a broken florescent tube on the street (didn’t step on any big piece of broken glass)… I got to my apartment walked in with the shoes on I only wiped them in the door mat then walked in and took them off few steps near the door. Is the apartment contaminated and if so what should I do? Had I known better I would’ve taken my shoes off and threw them away right there and then.

  23. Ahmed says:

    Can you please help me because I’m freaking out… A few days I stepped on a broken florescent tube( I didn’t step on any piece of the broken glass it was probably just the powder I stepped on) then I went home wiped my shoes in the door mat as i usually do then walked in the apartment with the shoes on i took them off a few steps away from the door and I wore them again for several days not knowing that it might be extremely dangerous.. My questions is, is my apartment contaminated. I also sometimes walk barefeet on the floor where i have stepped on with the shoes before taking them off. Should I be worried 😓? And also I placed a small mat on the same floor mentioned before then place this mat on the living room rug.ia the rug now and any thing that came in contact with it contaminated?

    Sorry for this long commet but I don’t know what to do and I am panicking. Thanks in advance.

    • ashartus says:

      I can’t see just stepping on a broken fluorescent tube resulting in significant problems, even if you did get any mercury on them the amount isn’t that big in fluorescent bulbs, contamination from your shoes is unlikely to be a concern.

  24. Jean Tasker says:

    Hello, I recently broke a spiral cfl bulb in my bedroom. I picked up the big pieces not considering there might be tiny slivers not easily seem in the carpet. I know, not too smart, but I was in a rush to catch the bus for work. Doing this, I got several small shards in my hands and foot. My hands are fine, however, there must have been a shard I didn’t remove in my toe. Days later and it is hurting more, yet I can’t see it to remove. I have tried soaking, random twizzering to no success. I was just going to wait and see, is that the right choice? Thank you so much

    • ashartus says:

      I’m not a doctor and you shouldn’t get medical advice from the internet anyhow, but once I had a puncture wound from broken glass that started to hurt more over time, the doctor put me on antibiotics. There’s a good chance of getting infections from that type of injury. So I’d go to the doctor for that reason, it sounds more like that to me than anything I’d expect from mercury.

  25. Rush says:

    Can you please help me with my situation. My husband was removing a CFL when it fell and shattered at my feet. This took place in my laundry room where the air intake for my heating and cooling is located as well. We didn’t know at the time all the procedures to clean properly. We did everything opposite in fact. We didn’t ventilate, left the heat on where the incident happened not a foot away and vacuumed up the mess. A few days after the fact, I cleaned the area with wet paper towels thoroughly.
    After reading so many things on the internet about this, I am in panic mode.
    Should I be concerned about the vapors going throughout my house because of the location of the incident (next to the air intake)? Should I throw out my vacuum? Any advice would be so appreciated.

  26. Gem Hutchings says:

    I accidently ran a cfl lightbulb (a small one) 9’na washing machine.. should I discard all clothing and change my washing machine?

    I a so worried.

    Thank you.

  27. Coleen Woody says:

    I have broken 4 to 5 cfl bulbs within close proximity in my home. I have depression and did not clean up any of them for a while. One in a bedroom, one or two in a hallway close to the bedroom another in another bedroom close to the same hallway area and one in the utility room next to the hallway and again close to the bedrooms. I live alone and did not pay much attention to picking up at all. I KNOW THIS SOUNDS like I am lazy and trashy and I guess my place is trashy though is nice house with nice things. Depression just got me down. Anyway, I may have broken the first one in a bedroom several months ago, and maybe the others in the last three months. I did pick-up the glass from the last two with my hands and put in plastic sack to take to hazardous waste. MY QUESTIONS ARE: I did not really look hard for glass and not for MERCURY at all. SO, in the utility room there clothes and shoes piled on the floor, two laundry baskets, several plastic bottles that held or hold white vinegar……….some empty, some half-full, some full. I did not look on or around ANYTHING is the laundry room. Just picked up glass showing. I have since washed clothes and shoes in the washer and dryed in dryer. Also, washed shoes and clothes separately in a dishpan and dried the clothes in dryer and put shoes on bath towel and left out to dry. I have no clue which clothes and shoes may have been contaminated, so if any clothes and shoes need to be thrown away, I guess they all do. Do I also need to get rid of my washer and dryer. Do I need to do anything to my plumbing. I did not air out house and used heat and air so do ducts need to be cleaned by hazardous waste people. I do have a guy from the EPA who is not even aware of the rules that Oklahoma has for disposal of mercury, coming to my house to check the mercury air levels but how does this tell me anything about the washer, dryer, plumbing, air ducts, all the ducts in my house or my clothes and shoes and furniture and car. Car because of my shoes and furniture because I seldom leave house and live in one are mostly. I WOULD TRULY APPRECIATE an honest and thoughtful reply. I guess I could be talking about potentially 25 mgs of mercury. Think some of the bulbs were bought before 2007.

    Thank you. It seems there would be a specialist at the university of Oklahoma who could answer this or even ok dept of env quality but I have yet to find one. I am broke but would find money to pay a specialist to give me the best answer, not just one I want to hear.

    Again, thank you. AND I am not worried about myself, but the danger to others from all of this and what I should do if I want to sell my house, OR LEAVE MY HOUSE to see friends or have people over. I do not want to endanger anyone.

    OH, and I do realize you do this as a service to others and know you may not be able to get back to me.


    • ashartus says:

      Coleen, I can’t really give definitive answers on a specific scenario like that. It seems unlikely there would be an issue though. If the bulbs broke on top of clothing or anything like that it should be aired out before being washed. The areas where the bulbs broke should be cleaned, there is some info on how to do that here.

      • Coleen Woody says:

        Thanks for responding. (unfortunately, I became concerned and looked up the correct way to handle these things, long after they happened. I do not even bother to pick-up broken glass in my house for maybe days or weeks and do it haphazardly. I can now clean my house and get everything back in order BUT now with having found out about the CFLS and how I responded or did not respond, I am at a loss as to what to do) I guess my biggest concern is that I have waited SO LONG TO clean this up AND have been walking on glass with shoes, USED AC & HEAT, NEVER open windows, NEVER CLEAN, NEVER DUST. As for the clothes, I have already washed at least 20 loads in this time, though not all clothes were in laundry room at time of breakage, they were added to the pile before being washed. SO 1) are the clothes okay after being washed even if they had mercury on them, or liquid or glass with powder or mercury mixed in dust? Should I throw all out? 2) So does my washing machine need to be gotten rid of (also dryer) either by taking to dump or hazardous waste facility? 3) Should I get rid of shoes which I walked with on the broken cfl before cleaning up? Probably several times.
        4) How about the carpet which I did not clean the way directions provide? MY ISSUE is that having not done anything as far as cleaning for weeks to months with different bulbs, having walked on it on carpet before I picked-up glass by hand and did nothing else and the same scenario happened in laundry room with tile – so besides specific numbered questions, in general, is it too late to do the correct way of cleaning and FINALLY, I haven’t dusted in years, do not open windows, used heat and air, SO…5) ducts need to be cleaned and how? All the blinds in the house need to be cleaned? 6) Because of walking on broken cfl with shoes, repeatedly, is there a concern for other parts of my house, my car, the homes of my family that I visited?

        I AM SO SORRY FOR BOTHERING YOU AGAIN, I JUST WANT TO GET your best answer to my specific questions. WITH THE DEPRESSION, I am not handling this well (which I am not saying because I feel sorry for myself, everyone’s life is different and
        this is mine…..there are people worse off. IT JUST IS WHAT IT IS. AND it is NOT your responsibility to respond do not mean to pressure and be a pain)

        WILL say there is a man from OK. DEQ who will come and do an air test, but not sure that addresses clothes, ducts, washing machine, clothes dryer, shoes. AGAIN, so sorry. I have done all sorts of research and called the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University and OK. DEQ. ALSO, he does not seem knowledgeable of the directions set-out by DEQ regarding CFLs, so expect only to get the reading done.

  28. Coleen Woody says:

    Correction: I live mostly on one end of my couch. Rest of house has things on floor, in chairs and on bed. NOT a hoarder just to depressed to do ANYTHING. If I am at someone else’s house, I will
    mow yard or dust or help out, because my depression is not so bad there PLUS my home is now overwhelming me.


  29. Tom says:

    Hey my friend,

    You are very generous in answering so many questions about this topic, you seem to be the local expert and everyone seems to appreciate you greatly. I do as well, thank you.

    I use a total of 12 CFL bulbs, in a lighting set up I travel with. In general the bulbs are protected, but it’s possible that they get bumped slightly here and there during travel with how they are stored.

    On a number of bulbs I noticed just a tiny bit of white powder on the outside of the bulbs, and only near the top of the bulbs away from the sockets. It is a very fine white powder. I see no cracks anywhere, and the bulbs still work.

    Is it possible that mercury is leaking? Should I go ahead and replace all 12 bulbs just to be safe?

    Thank you,

    • ashartus says:

      Mercury isn’t white or a powder. Maybe it could be phosphor?

      I don’t think CFL bulbs are a panic situation. I’ve gradually been phasing mine out for LEDs, but that’s more because they work better and last longer than any concern about mercury.

      • Tom says:

        Thanks my friend. I have read that there is white powder on the inside of the bulbs. So I thought maybe they were cracked and that some of the white powder came out. Meaning that mercury came out also. Otherwise, I’m not sure why there is a white powder in certain spots of a few of the bulbs all of a sudden. I’m not worried, thanks again 🙂

  30. Coleen Woody says:

    Okay, I understand your not going through my further question which was lengthy like the first. Or maybe you did and had nothing to add. JUST ONE LAST THING. Since I washed clothes which might have had liquid mercury or the dust or broken glass with the mercury in or on it……….should I get rid of my washer? my clothes dryer, too? either? Do anything else regarding them? I have worn clothes and used linens from the pile on the floor after washing and worn and used other clothes and linens washed and dryed after washing the ones on the floor. I guess I will just make a temporary clothes lines to hang the clothes for a couple of hours outside. Does that sound okay with the clothes? Leave shoes sitting outside for a couple of weeks, since I walked on the glass with them/ Thanks if you have an opinion to share with me.

  31. Margaret Cox says:

    I notice people have posted similar concerns and questions which I have and not sure if you can answer this but my specific questions are:

    If mercury from several broken CFL bulbs got on a person’s clothes and then were washed, would that remove all the contamination? If not, would it be because all of the mercury was not removed in both powder and/or vapor form? And how about clothes, sheets, etc that did not get mercury on them but were then washed in the same washing machine as the first ones? A link you provided said the washing machine might have to be disposed of!

  32. Rose Cordaro says:

    Hello, A CFL bulb broke onto the carpet in my room 3 feet from my air purifier and it was not turned off, it was going full blast. Do you know if my air purifier is contaminated? The filter on this one is about 300 dollars and changeable after about 5 years of use, and it would have been good for about 3 more years or so. Do you think there would be mercury in the purifier and would I now need to change the filter? Also, should I wash all of my bedding and clothing hanging in my open closet very nearby (2 feet away)? and is it ok to vacuum after the mercury and pieces are cleaned up? Would any remaining residue that was missed while cleaning up contaminate my vacuum?

  33. I visited a lot of website but I think this one holds something extra in it

  34. Karen says:

    I did not fully understand the dangers of the CFL bulbs, I broke one in our small furnace room. I vaguely recalled that it needed special protocol but did not recall what so I left it, closed the door told my husband about it but he didn’t end up doing anything about it and it sat on the floor in the furnace room for maybe 6 weeks to 2 months before I saw it when grabbing back up toilet paper etc and mentioned it to him again.

    He and I have both had some strange symptoms and now I keep wondering about that bulb.

    How much worse is it that it sat for so long? Is the mercury that is released the same whether it sits or was cleaned up right away?

  35. Coleen Woody says:

    If you do not mind responding, what type of symptoms are you and your husband experiencing which you believe are related to the mercury? Thanks.

    • Karen says:

      Just both extremely fatigued no matter what we do, no appetite, exhausted more than just normal age etc (we are in our 50’s)

  36. Jay says:

    So when the fluorescent light bulb (in my case is the circle-y type Circline) is intact, there should not be any worry for mercury contamination, right? I just get super paranoid now.

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