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Consumers/Residential Mercury

Health, Safety, and Reducing Exposure Risk 

The human nervous system is very sensitive to all forms of mercury. Methylmercury and metal vapors are more harmful than other forms, because more mercury in these forms reaches the brain. Exposure to high levels of metallic, inorganic, or organic mercury can permanently damage the brain, kidneys and developing fetus. Effects on brain functioning may result in irritability, shyness, tremors, changes in vision or hearing, and memory problems. Short-term exposure to high levels of metallic mercury vapors may cause effects including lung damage, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, increases in blood pressure or heart rate, skin rashes and eye irritation. Very young children are more sensitive to mercury than adults. Children poisoned by mercury may develop problems of their nervous and digestive systems and kidney damage.

For more information on mercury and your health, visit the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Mercury.

How Can People Reduce the Risk of Exposure to Mercury?

  • Carefully handle and dispose of products that contain mercury, such as thermometers or fluorescent lights. Do not vacuum up spilled mercury, because it will vaporize and increase exposure. If a large amount of mercury has been spilled, contact your local health or environmental department. Teach children not to play with shiny, silver liquids.
  • Properly dispose of older medicines that contain mercury. Keep all mercury-containing medicines away from children.
  • Pregnant women and children should keep away from rooms where liquid mercury has been used or spilled.

Household Lighting FAQs

Why should I change the bulbs in my home?

We recommend the use of fluorescent lighting or LED wherever possible in your home. These lamps will save you money on your electric bill, enough to offset the higher cost.

How do I know what kind of bulb to buy?

EPA's ENERGY STAR program includes lots of great information about types of bulbs and choosing a bulb that fits your needs.

I tried a fluorescent bulb in a dimmer switch; it didn't work and the one in my hallway fixture keeps burning out.

Be sure to fit the right bulb with the right use. Most compact fluorescent bulbs will not work in dimmer switches. If they are subjected to extremes in temperature they will not last as long. If they are put inside small globes, like in small ceiling fixtures, they will not last as long. Special bulbs made for these specific uses are available - check the label.

Why should I look for the ENERGY STAR on the label?

Choosing a product labeled with the ENERGY STAR means it meets strict energy-efficiency guidelines set by the EPA and U.S. Department of Energy. But remember - the length these bulbs last is an average and some will burn out sooner than what is listed on the label.

What about the mercury in fluorescent bulbs?

All fluorescent lamps have some mercury in them, including CFLs or compact fluorescent lamps. CFLs have around 5 milligrams of mercury in them, the amount that would cover the tip of a ball point pen. Although this is a very small amount (compare to a mercury fever thermometer with about 500 milligrams of mercury), with hundreds of millions of these lamps in use, recycling them at the end of their life is important to keep the toxic mercury out of our landfills and environment.

What should I do with the bulb when it burns out?

Recycle the bulbs when they burn out. Here are some recycling options:

  1. Visit Earth911's website. You will be instructed to use your zip code to learn about recycling options near your home. You can also call 1-800-CLEANUP (253-2687) for the same information.
  2. Take them to your county Household Hazardous Waste center. These programs are set up in all Florida counties to provide recycling or disposal of hazardous materials generated in the home. When you take your lamps for recycling, be sure to look around your home first to see what other hazardous waste you can dispose of. This might include things like pesticides, fertilizer, cleansers, auto fluids, pool chemicals, batteries, paint, propane tanks, and other items that will be detailed at your county's website.

What if a mercury-containing lamp breaks?

If a lamp breaks, first, DON'T PANIC!

If you should break a CFL or other fluorescent lamp in your home, the department recommends that you use the following guidelines for clean-up.

1. Ventilate the room

• Open a window

• Leave the room and restrict access for at least 30 minutes.

• If available, point a floor or pedestal fan at the open window. Using a ceiling fan will not be as helpful at moving the air out of the window.

2. Pick up all materials you can

• Wear disposable gloves.

• Carefully scoop up the fragments and powder with stiff paper or cardboard.

• Sticky tape (such as duct tape) can be used to pick up small pieces and powder.

• Wipe the area clean with a damp paper towel or disposable wet wipe.

3. Double bag and recycle

• Place the broken CFL and clean-up materials in doubled plastic bags and seal the bags

• Take the materials to a local household hazardous waste center or collection event, a fluorescent lamp recycling facility, or put into the household trash stored outside if no other recycling options are available.

4. Wash your hands

Other Mercury-Related Pages:

Last Modified:
November 14, 2023 - 3:56pm

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