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Broken CFLs: a Scary Halloween Story

Posted By Beth Terry On October 31, 2007 @ 11:29 am In Environmental,Global Warming & Energy Conservation | 10 Comments

Happy Halloween. After reading nearly twenty articles this past month on how to “green” your Halloween, Michael and I have decided to skip it altogether this year and opt for a nice Ethiopian dinner out with friends. That solves our problem of finding plastic-free Halloween treats to hand out. None. Of course, if you were hoping I’d post my solutions for a plastic-free Halloween, I’ve let us all down! Oh well… there’s always next year. Feel free to post your own solutions to the Halloween greed-fest in the comments.

In the meantime, continuing with the global warming/energy conservation theme this week, and needing to provide a little Halloween scare, I thought I’d share some information I just discovered.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, we had bought a package of Phillips CFLs from Costco (in the days when we weren’t being careful about plastic) and had such a hard time getting them out of the blister or clamshell or whatever the heck it’s called, that a bulb broke while we were just trying to cut the pack open. Oh, great, we thought, knowing that CFLs contain come mercury but not knowing really what that means or what we should do about it.

We cleaned up the pieces as best we could, not taking any particular precautions besides trying not to touch the glass as much as possible. Now I find that we did everything wrong, according to the EPA. This is what we should have done, per instructions on the EPA’s web site [1]:

    1. Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.

 

  • Carefully scoop up the fragments and powder with stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a sealed plastic bag.

 

 

  • Use disposable rubber gloves, if available (i.e., do not use bare hands). Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes and place them in the plastic bag.

 

 

  • Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.

 

 

  • Place all cleanup materials in a second sealed plastic bag.

 

 

  • Place the first bag in a second sealed plastic bag and put it in the outdoor trash container or in another outdoor protected area for the next normal trash disposal. Note: Some states prohibit such trash disposal and require that broken and unbroken lamps be taken to a local recycling center.

 

 

  • Wash your hands after disposing of the bag.

 

If a fluorescent bulb breaks on a rug or carpet:

    1. First, remove all materials you can without using a vacuum cleaner, following the steps above. Sticky tape (such as duct tape) can be used to pick up small pieces and powder.

 

  • If vacuuming is needed after all visible materials are removed, vacuum the area where the bulb was broken, remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister) and put the bag or vacuum debris in two sealed plastic bags in the outdoor trash or protected outdoor location for normal disposal.

 

Okay, so Michael and I are already dead. But you don’t have to be. (Or are these precautions overkill?)

One commenter yesterday mentioned we could get CFLs in cardboard from Whole Foods. So that will be my mission this weekend: returning the rest of the Phillips bulbs to Costco and finding some that won’t burst when we open the package.

P.S. If I’d planned ahead for Halloween, I might have sprung for College Farm Organic candies [10/2013 Update: the company seems to have gone out of business]¬†which are not only organic but come wrapped in compostable corn-starch-based wrappers.


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[1] EPA’s web site: http://www.epa.gov/mercury/spills/index.htm#flourescent

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