Thursday, August 16, 2012

Worries of a Paranoid SAHM: Compact Fluorescent Bulbs

My sister called me in tears today.  She had . . gasp . . .broken a Compact Fluorescent light bulb (CFL) right in front of her 15 month old.

Her husband just laughed her off, "Babe, it's not a big deal."
"But, they have mercury vapors," my sister sobbed.
"They do?"  Not the response she was hoping for. People who don't already know that CFLs contain mercury are not qualified to offer reassurances.

My dad (the doctor), my mom and sister all told her not to worry and that it wasn't a big deal. But my sister didn't need rational reassurances.  She needed sympathy and understanding.  Paranoid SAHM to the rescue.

"Oh no.  Did you immediately open the windows and leave the house for at least 15 minutes," I asked? See, as a fellow Paranoid SAHM I had already researched what to do in case of a broken CFL and I could hear the relief in her voice as she said, "You've researched it too?"  "Of course," I said. "And if it were me, I'd leave the house for the rest of the day."

Now rationally, my sister and I know that it is really not a big deal.  I even told her as much, but I had to admit that I would be freaked out too.  If you want to join our freak out party, check out the  EPA web page on cleaning up a broken CFL.  

If that's not enough to freak you out, check this out.  Researchers have found that if you clean up broken CFLs right away, there is no harm at all BUT (and this is the freaky part) broken CFLs continue to emit mercury vapors for at least 43 days (that was the length of the study).  Yikes.  It is crazy to me that this is the more environmentally friendly option.  

What's a Paranoid SAHM to do?  

Here's what the EPA says:

  • Open windows, turn off ventilation (so that the vapors don't circulate around your house) and leave the area for 15 minutes.
  • After 15 minutes, clean up the shards using duct tape, or a wet cloth depending on the surface.  Do not use your vacuum or it will get contaminated as well.  
  • Put pieces in a glass jar or sealed plastic bag and dispose of outside (check your local regulations though, some areas require CFLs to go through hazardous waste rather than curbside pick up).  

What this Paranoid SAHM does:

Call me self-centered but I would rather use incandescent lights than bring mercury into my home with young children.   Even the EPA recommends not using CFLs in floor lamps, or bedside lamps because the bulbs are more likely to get broken.  We do use one in our porch light, and my husband installed one on our stairs.  But it freaks me out every time I turn it on.


  1. How did I not know this? Yikes!!! I have already broken a few of these and just threw them in the trash. Thanks for the info Taylor!

  2. Let the record show, I also called poison control later on... (yes, I'm THAT paranoid) the lady I talked to assured me it was no big deal at all, and was more concerned that I disposed of the broken lightbulb properly. She also told me the CFL bulbs are still much more environmentally friendly. No thank you.