Excellent question. The short answer is yes. Mercury is a heavy metal that is one of only a handful that are liquid at room temperature. CFLs are made from a phosphor tube that contains a bit of mercury vapor. Electricy passes through the vapor, which creates ultraviolet light. The ultraviolet light causes the phosphor tube to flouresce and this is what creates the visible light.
Mercury can be absorbed by touch and by air. So the danger exists when a CFL bulb is broken. It is more dangerous to breathe in Mercury, which is why it is suggested that you leave the room for a while and let it air out before you go back in to clean up the broken bulb. Inhaled mercury can damage the liver, central nervous system and kidneys. However, bear in mind that the danger from a single broken CFL bulb is minimal because the amount of mercury contained is below the danger level calculated by OSHA.
To minimize your exposure, the EPA recommends the following should a CFL break in your home:
1) Immediately open windows.
2) Using gloves, carefully clean up the broken glass. Do not use your bare hands or a vacuum cleaner.
3) Wipe down the area with a paper towel to get all the glass fragments and mercury.
4) Seal the paper towel and all glass fragments in a plastic bag.
5) Take the plastic bag to your local Household Hazardous Waste facility.
It’s a bit of a hassle, but if you consider how much money you are saving on energy, I believe it’s well worth it. Another energy saving light source to consider are LEDs. They are more expensive initially, but don’t contain mercury and use even less energy than a CFL!
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