What to Know About Mercury in Light Bulbs

Mercury-containing light bulbsMercury is highly toxic to humans and wildlife.

Fluorescent tubes, compact fluorescent, germicidal, blacklight, metal halide and other HID light bulbs all contain mercury compounds.

Incandescent, halogen and LED bulbs do not contain mercury.

Extreme care should be taken in both the handling of broken light bulbs and the disposal of burned out bulbs that contain mercury.

What to do when a mercury containing light bulb breaks

According the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), take the following steps:

  1. Have people and pets leave the room.
  2. Air out the room for 5 to 10 minutes by opening a window.
  3. Shut off the central forced air furnace or air conditioner.
  4. Do not use a vacuum to clean up. Instead use cardboard to move the large pieces into a container that can be tightly closed preferrably a glass jar or plastic bag. Use wet paper towels or tape to collect the small pieces and powder. Place everything in the container.
  5. Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or sanitary wipes. Place the towels in the same container used for the other debris.
  6. Put the container outside as soon as the clean-up is finished.
  7. Wash hands thoroughly. If gloves are used, they should also be disposed of.
  8. Check with your local government about disposal requirements. In some areas recycling the broken light bulb is required. In other areas, the material can be placed with the regular garbage.

For a more detailed discussion of how to dispose of broken light bulbs that contain mercury, see the EPA article.

How to dispose of burned out light bulbs containing mercury.

Mercury containing light bulbs are managed under both federal and state regulations. The laws apply to both consumers and businesses. Regulations vary from state to state. Some states have regulations that are more stringent than those of the federal government. Check with your state and local governments to learn what to do.

Some fluorescent and HID light bulbs are manufactured with lower levels of mercury. In a few states they can legally be disposed of with regular garbage, if they pass a toxicity test known as TCLP. This can be a significant savings for schools and businesses that need to dispose of large numbers of bulbs each year.

On Topbulb, look for “TCLP Compliant’ in the description, or you can search using “tclp” in the search field.

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Dave Burtner

Dave has been active in the lighting industry since 1994. Formerly a member of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America and certified by the National Council On Qualifications for Lighting Professionals, Dave now writes blog posts, lighting tips and provides lighting product assistance for the Topbulb website.