Do Broken CFL Light Bulbs Really Pose a Health Risk?

Broken CFL bulb

Broken CFLs pose a health risk

The short answer is YES.  CFLs contain mercury, a potentially dangerous substance. The mercury in CFL bulbs does not pose a risk if contained safely contained inside an intact bulb, but if the bulb is broken you do need to handle it with care and follow certain procedures to remove it and its contents safely.

While one broken CFL bulb does not put your family or business’s inhabitants in immediate grave danger, consider hundreds, thousands, millions of broken CFLs in our landfills, leaching into the ground.  But don’t worry, there’s no need for an enviromental HAZMAT crew to be dispersed if you break a bulb.

Similar to batteries, used CFLs really need to be disposed of at a toxic waste depot in your local community, rather than thrown out with the ordinary household trash. Because mercury by its nature is cumulative, this poisonous substance would add up if all the broken and used bulbs went into a our community’s landfills.

We strongly recommend phasing out CFLs from your home altogether in favor of safer LED bulbs.  But if you do happen to break a CFL bulb while you are switching it with an LED, see our earlier blog with recommendations for safe removal and clean up.

We find this information to be useful, at


Broken CFL Bulbs Pose Health Risks

So you were going the “environmentally responsible route” and bought Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs) to replace incandescent bulbs in your home?  Despite the annoying few second delay whenever you turn on a CFL lightbulb, you have been feeling pretty excellent about your choice.

Mercury Poisoning

Toxic Mercury

Here’s the thing.  We really hate to burst your bubble, but did you know that CFLs contain mercury?

Mercury is a poisonous substance that can cause major health concerns.  Even in trace amounts, it can be problematic.

Mercury Poisoning

Mercury Poisoning

If you are of a certain age, maybe you can remember the panic that ensued if your mom accidentally broke the mercury thermometer, and then the scramble to carefully collect all of the little silver blobs that rolled around the table onto the floor?

Broken CFL Bulb

Broken CFL Bulb

Fast forward to today… perhaps now YOU are that parent concerned about protecting your children from toxic poisons.  What should you do if you accidentally break a CFL lightbulb?

Don’t worry! Important precautions that you should take in order to safely dispose of broken CFLs are available.  The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) provides the following key steps to safely cleaning up a broken CFL:


  • Remove all people and pets from the room where the bulb broke
  • Ventilate the room by opening a window for a few minutes
  • Shut off central air conditioning or heating, for several hours if possible
  • Avoid vacuuming in a mercury-contaminated area
  • Pick up fragments with cardboard rather than a vacuum cleaner
  • Pick up remnants with tape
  • Seal all debris inside a glass jar (since plastic bags will not prevent mercury vapor from escaping)
  • Store sealed glass jar outside the home
  • Open windows and turn off central climate control the next few times you vacuum the room
  • Check with local waste disposal authorities about how to dispose of all CFLs, whether broken or not

For a handy guide on how to properly dispose of broken CFLs, click on this link, print it out and keep it in a handy place for future reference… and then consider switching to LEDs, which are currently the most promising health hazard-free alternative to CFLs!

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The Elimination of Incandescent Lightbulbs

Thomas Edison's invention: lightbulb

Thomas Edison gave us the gift of light!

Thomas Edison was a great man and gave us a miraculous gift…

the gift of light…

incandescent light bulbs.

But if Thomas Edison were alive today, we like to think he’d be leading the movement towards more energy efficient lighting sources that the technological advances since his age have provided.

Earlier in our decade, Vice President Al Gore popularized widespread usage of CFLs  as an energy saving alternative to traditional bulbs, and in recent history President George W. Bush signed into law the elimination of incandescent light bulbs over the course of the next few years.

If you are like us at LALED, you may not consider yourself a radical environmentalist (or an extremist of any sort, really), but you can probably see the merit and common sense in leaving the planet at least as good as we found it for future generations to live and prosper.  To us, the concept of our children and
grandchildren inheriting a problematic environment is unsettling.  Likewise, leaving them an insurmountable national debt is, well… unforgiveable.

Recent political rumblings in opposition to The Energy Bill of 2007 have called this legislation into question and brought the issue to our dining room and water cooler conversations, but whether you believe the bill limits your political freedoms or not, the fact remains that usage of more technologically advanced lighting sources is not only ideal in terms of energy conservation, but is just plain smarter economically speaking.

Less energy output = less spending from your bank account + more  environmentally sound.

That sounds like good math to us.

While we appreciate that CFLs were a step in the right direction, at LALED we are helping to pioneer the LED movement as the answer to the question, “what now?” and thus become the lighting option of choice for the future.
But guess what?  The future is now!

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