Energy efficient bulb cracked inside fixture?
October 12, 2017 5:14 PM   Subscribe

OK, so my energy efficient (CFL? LED? I have no idea. ALl I know is that it's the spiral kind) burnt out in my dining room ceiling fixture. I tried to twist it out like a normal light bulb, but instead of gripping and twisting the plastic base like a normal person, I spaced out and gripped and twisted the spiral part. And of course it cracked under my hand.

Now what? The dining room is carpeted, and it is open into the kitchen and the rest of the house. I am worried about breaking it more, and I don't know if already the mercury vapors are coming out into the house.
There dining room was in the middle of post-dinner clean up, and there are open grocery bags on the table as well.
I have no idea how to tackle this safely. I am completely unschooled in any kind of household toxic management skill, and actually rather phobic of them. Thanks.
posted by flourpot to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The EPA's got your back.
Basically, turn off your HVAC, open some windows, do not vacuum, and put all of the remnants in a bag and get it out of your house. Then wash your hands thoroughly.
posted by Fig at 5:24 PM on October 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

Forgot to add - the rest of the steps are the same as any other broken lightbulb.
posted by Fig at 5:25 PM on October 12, 2017

Yeah you have a CFL. They are both fragile and potentially extremely harmful to human health when broken. We should all plan to never buy one again. They are very dangerous but you should be fine following Fig's link/advice.

LED are much safer so I plan to only buy those for the next 5-10 years.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:27 PM on October 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ok done. Thank you!
posted by flourpot at 6:10 PM on October 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

SaltySalticid: "extremely harmful to human health when broken."

A broken CFL releases about 13 cans of tuna worth of mercury over the course of 8 hours; not all of which will be inhaled by any particular person. And the mercury in a CFL is in a much less bio available form. Unless you are cracking open CFL bulbs and huffing the contents you don't have anything to be worried about; your mercury exposure from a single broken CFL in a room that is aired out afterwards is essentially nil.
posted by Mitheral at 9:17 PM on October 12, 2017 [11 favorites]

As long as you ventilate well, clean up the bits you can find, and wash your hands, the small amount of mercury in a CFL isn't terribly dangerous unless you have special risk factors. Just don't eat off the floor since there's no way you're getting every bit of mercury out of your carpet.

Aside from particularly toxic mercury containing compounds not found in metallic mercury used in consumer products, mercury in general is much more an environmental problem than a personal one. Unless you eat a diet of mostly fish, even inhaling the entire mercury content of a modern CFL probably wouldn't produce significant symptoms. It takes a long time to flush from your system, though, hence the concern over proper cleanup and avoiding unnecessary contact.

We children of the pre-Internet era worry a lot less about it since we've all seen mercury thermometers and probably even played with the mercury out of broken ones as kids. There's a lot less mercury in a CFL and a lot less environmental mercury, so your base load is less than we had way back when anyway.

Nonetheless, the mercury content getting tossed in landfills is a good reason to avoid CFLs in favor of LEDs. LED bulbs are slightly more energy efficient anyway, and usually have a more pleasing color temperature (and a broader spectrum) to boot.

Oh, and if you're worried about contamination on dishes, closed packages of food, etc, just wipe them down thoroughly with paper towels, preferably over a disposable plates to contain anything you wipe off that doesn't get caught by the paper towels, and you should get it all. It doesn't really stick to things much. With that done, bag the paper towels and the disposable plate and dispose of them with the remains of the bulb. Washing the plates as normal after wiping them down should be perfectly safe.

That is actually a bit excessive given the actual risk, but it may be worth it just for peace of mind. (People have eaten fairly significant blobs of mercury that eventually passed and caused no acute toxicity..the gut doesn't absorb it very well compared to the methylmercury found in fish, metallic mercury is mainly an inhalation hazard when it evaporates)
posted by wierdo at 9:18 PM on October 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

LED bulbs are now really good and they use less electricity than CFLs, so as bulbs burn out, LED replacements are advised. CFLs do have mercury, and Home Depot will recycle them properly.
posted by theora55 at 6:32 AM on October 13, 2017

Nthing above. Also IKEA recycles them. (At least in Canada.)
posted by thenormshow at 8:47 AM on October 13, 2017

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