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A new OSHA Quick Card provides guidance to minimize employee exposure to mercury when cleaning up a broken fluoresecent light.

I think we have all heard the urban legends about broken mercury  thermometers being cause of school evacuations that turn out to be true stories of overreaction.

And that the EPA ‘s draconian procedures require hazmat suits (Not true- at least the part about needing a Hazmat suit). There is nothing about Hazmat suits in their EPA CLEAN UP BROKEN CFL INSTRUCTION  (Although one Maine couple got some bad advice that cost them over $2000 for the cleanup of a single broken CFL bulb.)

And the MSDS sheet sure can put the fear into you if you don’t understand dosing quantities, air volumes and circulation,  and exposure.

So we were pleased to find that OSHA has actually published a quick card to protect workers and companies from bad advice and give authoritative guidance on reducing the risks from broken mercury containing fluorescent bulbs and tubes.

Official common-sense, non-hysterical guidance for cleaning up a broken fluorescent bulb. Whew!

Safe Cleanup of Broken Fluorescent Bulbs

  • Notify workers and tell them to stay away from the area.
  • Open any windows and doors to air out the room.
  • Do not use a broom or vacuum cleaner unless the vacuum cleaner is specifically designed to collect mercury.
  • Wear appropriate disposable chemical-resistant gloves.
  • Use a commercial mercury spill kit if available, or scoop up pieces of glass and powder with stiff paper or cardboard to avoid contact with the broken glass.
  • Use sticky tape to pick up any remaining pieces of glass.
  • Wipe down hard floors with a damp paper towel.
  • Place all pieces of glass and cleanup materials in a sealable plastic bag or a glass jar with a lid.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after cleanup.
Grainger sells mercury spill kits that look like they contain most of what OSHA”s guidance says you need.

Myself, I’d put the debris collected in a metal paint can type of container. Why put the hazardous debris in a plastic bag which will not contain the mercury vapors? Why put it in another easily breakable glass jar? Metal can is safer.

Maybe it has something to do with recycling?

This won’t break if it’s dropped. Hmmm?

Disambiguation alert: Don’t confuse this quick card with the fact sheet which is specifically for people working in the fluorescent disposal industry.

No special precautions needed if you encounter one of these.

Paint can photo

Mercury Record

2 thoughts on “How to Clean Up Mercury Spill From Fluorescent Light-OSHA

  1. Brad Buscher says:

    A suitable mercury storage or shipping package can effectively contain vapors emitted by broken fluorescent lamps and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), but those vapors can reach dangerously high levels inside of the package. A study by Nucon International, Inc. recently tested mercury vapor levels inside and outside containment packaging and found a need for an adsorbent technology that could capture vapor before it escaped from the inside of the package. Nucon broke 40 fluorescent lamps in a mercury-safe containment bag and measured vapor levels outside of the package for leakage, and inside the bag for vapor concentrations. The tests from outside of the packaging showed the vapor was being contained, with only slight leakage that was well within safety limits. However, results from inside the containment bag yielded extremely high and unsafe vapor readings of 150 to 300 times the OSHA 8-hour personal exposure limit (PEL).

    It is important to be aware that while mercury vapor can be contained in specific packages, if that package is perforated or opened, vapor levels could be dangerously high inside the bag and seep out. The need for capturing mercury vapor to prevent seepage can be achieved by including an adsorbent technology in the containment packaging. The Nucon study found that a new, patent-pending adsorbent can reduce vapor levels by nearly 60 percent in 15 minutes, and after 12 hours levels are reduced by over 95 percent. Recently announced at the Air & Waste Management Association’s Conference & Exhibition, this adsorbent technology can capture the mercury vapor in the package, protecting users against dangerously high vapor levels resulting from incidental exposure during the accumulation, storage and transportation of lamps. Additionally, a small consumer-size recycling bag, now available, features this technology and allows people to safely store three to four used lamps at home before taking them to a retailer or municipality that accepts CFLs for recycling.

    View a short animated depiction of the adsorption process at

    Download a detailed White Paper on this technology at

    Purchase consumer CFL recycling bags at

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