Switched to CFLs for Earth Day? Beware.

compact fluorescent light CFL bulb contains mercury

In light of Earth Day yesterday, you may have finally switched out your incandescent lights and replaced them with compact fluorescent lights (CFLs).  Or maybe you went “green” a while ago and have been using CFLs for years.  Either way, beware.

When a CFL breaks in your home, it is considered a toxic mercury exposure.  These wonderful “green” lights ride a very fine line from being better for the environment to being terrible for your health in a matter of shattered seconds.

Inside the intact CFL light bulb lives mercury vapor.  The mercury gas escapes the CFL when the glass is broken.  That’s not too much of a problem until your 2 year old grabs one and drops it on the floor.  Or there’s an earthquake and all the CFLs in your home break.  These energy efficient bulbs, even though they are “green”, are a source of toxic mercury exposure when the glass fractures.  The mercury vapor is breathed in, enters your body through the lungs, and dissolves into your blood.  This kind of mercury has a very short half life in the blood, making it virtually impossible to test for the mercury exposure with a simple blood test.  Where did all that mercury in the blood go?

Your body.

Mercury is a neurotoxin.  Once it gets in the blood, it doesn’t like being there, so it quickly redistributes to other tissues in your body.  One of the places it loves is the brain.

This is of particular concern when it comes to children and babies.  They are little.  They take more breaths a minute than adults do.  Infants breath even faster than kids.  This means if children or infants are around a freshly broken CFL, they are rapidly inhaling the mercury vapor.  What’s worse is that mercury vapor likes to hang out around the floor, right where the kids roll and play.

Tips for Cleaning Up a Broken CFL

  • Immediately remove pregnant women, children, and infants from the home for several hours.
  • Ventilate the room as well as possible:  open all doors and windows.
  • Properly dispose of all equipment used to clean up the broken CFL.
  • Do not re-use anything that came in contact with the broken CFL.
  • Never vacuum up a broken CFL.  This will aerosolize the mercury vapor even more.
  • Make an appointment with a naturopathic physician to properly evaluate any medical attention needed for the mercury exposure.

Tips for Using CFLs in a Home with Children

  • Keep all CFLs stored in a safe place where kids can not reach.
  • Keep children in a separate area while a CFL is being changed.
  • Use incandescent light bulbs in lamps that could be pulled down (and broken) by babies and toddlers.
  • If you live in an earthquake zone, use incandescent lights in your child’s bedroom if not throughout the entire house.
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6 Responses

  1. JoAnne Deibert

    What does Mercury do to the body / brain? Are their symptoms? What kind of effects does it have?


    Dr. Archer

    Mercury can play a role in gut flora, autoimmune disease, and fertility but has the largest affinity for the nervous system where it can have a wide range of effects. It can affect memory and also may play a role in Alzheimer’s and dementia.


  2. Pragati

    Being good for the environment and bad for your health so, so frustrating! I actually had PSE come through my apartment and give me lots of CFL bulbs. Makes me really nervous about having to change any of them!


    Dr. Archer

    I know. Sometimes it’s a hard call!


  3. Debbie Young

    Why can’t we get it right and make something ecologically helpful that has no “unintended” consequences? I feel crumby about all my CPF’s when it come to disposal time because of the mercury. Moving on to LED’s, when I can afford it.


  4. aunt lisa

    Archer, I have to say thank you. I have been overwelmed emotionally for awhile now. I used to be very organized. Slowly I have been losing focus on so many things. I have been wanting to get back on track, but did not know how. I have been praying about it. Thank you for giving me a real answer. I am going to start writing down my accomplishments each day instead writing down what I want to do then feeling let down at night when I see I did not get it all done. I get it. I will try it.
    I started walking again,(on warmer days). That helped so much. I felt like I was actually doing something for myself. I don’t have the hills to climb like I used to, but it just really was helpful.
    I am thankful you have tbis website. I am not great on eatting real nutriciously, but I figure one step at a time. I do take a good vitamin, but yes I still eat sweets and lots of gravy with my potatos.
    You are influnincing even the most stubborn ones who do not like change. You can be proud of that.


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