Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Compact Fluorescents, savings and clean up

This report is a collection of information provided by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

According to the US Department of Energy, if we all switched our five most-highly used light bulbs to compact fluorescents (CFLs), we would save enough electricity to shut down 21 power plants—about 800 billion kilowatt-hours. That means a lot less carbon dioxide, mercury, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides going into the air and causing problems like climate change, acid rain, ozone and contaminated fish. Ultimately the mercury in the light bulbs is far less than the mercury that would be emitted using conventional light bulbs. Not to mention the money we’d save on our monthly electric bills. Try Efficiency Maine's savings calculator to see how much you might save. And find more information about the ENERGY STAR® Residential Lighting Program.

Maine law does not allow fluorescent bulbs, including CFLs, to be disposed of in the trash because they contain a small amount of mercury. You can recycle them at participating retail stores at no charge or where your municipality has made lamp recycling arrangements; there may be a small charge for recycling the bulb at a municipal recycling facility. To determine where your municipality has made arrangements for recycling of this type of waste, call your municipal office or check the Maine Department of Environmental Protection website for a list of municipal collection sites (MS Excel format) (pdf format) - White blocks mean those municipal offices could not be reached. Blue means the facility will take from anyone in the state not just the residents in their town. If anyone finds any errors or changes, please contact the Hazardous Waste Program DEP staff at 207-287-2651.

February 2008, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection released their study report on compact fluorescent lamps/light bulbs. The purpose of the study was to determine the amount of mercury that would be released from breaking a lamp and how best to clean up broken lamps. Based on the study, they modified their clean up guidelines. The guidelines are as follows:

First, ventilate the area by opening windows, and leave the area for 15 minutes before returning to begin the cleanup. Mercury vapor levels will lower dramatically by then. Continue ventilating the area during and after clean up for several hours.

Keep people and pets away from the breakage area until the cleanup is complete. Foot traffic will agitate the area and kick up mercury.

Do not use a vacuum cleaner to clean up the breakage. This will spread the mercury vapor and dust throughout the area and could potentially contaminate the vacuum.

Next, Carefully remove the larger pieces, wearing rubber gloves if possible, and place them in a secure closed container, preferably a glass container with a metal screw top lid and seal like a canning jar. (Other jars that can be made of glass and also work are pickle, peanut butter and applesauce jars. Not ideal but also a good choice for containing breakage is a heavy duty #2 plastic container with either a screw lid or push-on lid such as a joint compound bucket or certain kitty litter-type containers.) A glass jar with a good seal works best to contain any mercury vapors inside.

Then, begin collecting the smaller pieces and dust. You can use two stiff pieces of paper such as index cards or playing cards to scoop up pieces.

Next, pat the area with the sticky side of duct tape, packing tape or masking tape to pick up fine particles. Wipe the area with a wet wipe or damp paper towel to pick up even finer particles.
Put all waste and materials into the glass container, including all material used in the cleanup that may have been contaminated with mercury. Label the container as “Universal Waste - broken lamp.”

Next, remove the container with the breakage and cleanup materials from your home. This is particularly important if you do not have a glass container.

Then, wash your hands and face.

Finally, take the glass container with the waste material to a facility that accepts “universal waste” for recycling. To determine where your municipality has made arrangements for recycling of this type of waste, call your municipal office.

When a break happens on carpeting, homeowners may consider removing throw rugs or the area of carpet where the breakage occurred as a precaution, particularly if the rug is in an area frequented by infants, small children or pregnant women.

If the carpet is not removed, open the window to the room during the next several times you vacuum the carpet to provide good ventilation.

The next time you replace a lamp, consider putting a drop cloth on the floor so that any accidental breakage can be easily cleaned up. If consumers remain concerned regarding safety, they may consider not utilizing fluorescent lamps in situations where they could easily be broken. Consumers may also consider avoiding CFL usage in bedrooms or carpeted areas frequented by infants, small children, or pregnant women. Finally, consider not storing too many used/spent lamps before recycling as that may increase your chances of breakage. Don’t forget to properly recycle your used fluorescent bulbs so they don’t break and put mercury into our environment.

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