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Power Talk

Broken CFL? Don’t Call 911

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) are selling like hotcakes, but not all users are comfortable with them yet. According to the Austin-American Statesman, some are calling 911 for cleanup help from the fire department if they break a bulb. The message from fire authorities and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to take care but don’t call for outside help.

Better to leave the fire department for responding to emergencies.

CFL bulbs contain 1.4 to 4 milligrams of mercury, about the amount that would cover the tip of a ballpoint pen. It would take 125 CFLs to equal the amount of mercury manufacturers used in old thermometers. To put this in community perspective, CFLs–which consume 75 percent less energy than a conventional bulb–actually prevent mercury pollution overall. The electricity used by one CFL is responsible for 2.5 milligrams of mercury emissions from a coal-burning generation plant over five years of use. Powering a conventional bulb over that span releases 10 milligrams of mercury, according to the EPA. In addition, a CFL lasts up to six times longer than a conventional bulb and adds less waste heat to your home.

The Austin Fire Department says:

• If a bulb is broken, air out the room where the break occurred for about 15 minutes and then place the broken pieces in a jar with a metal lid or in a plastic bag that can be sealed. Burned-out or broken bulbs can be returned to The Home Depot or other agencies and businesses with disposal facilities.

• Don’t vacuum the broken pieces.

• Clothes that come in contact with bulb fragments should be thrown away.