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

Fluorescent light bulbs. Batteries.

 These fall under the Category of Universal Waste.

Businesses must dispose of these items in accordance with rules for Universal Waste.

While there may be state  or local disposal requirements as well, in this post we’re going to address the federal requirements.

List of State Programs

Fluorescent Lamps

Fluorescent light bulbs save energy by producing more light for less wattage, requiring less energy and therefore less fuel burned.

However, the downside of this is the fact that these bulbs contain mercury, making disposal problematic. (When the mercury atoms are  energized, they emit UV rays which cause the phosphors in the tube to glow (fluoresce)- producing visible light.)

Exposures to mercury can affect the human nervous system and harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system.

The point is to minimize release of vapor that may contain Mercury. Here are 5 steps for handling  fluorescent ‘s under Universal Waste rules:

  • Used lamps should be collected and packaged so as to minimize damage;
  • Employees should be trained on the hazards and procedures involving these type of “universal waste;”
  • Used lamps may be collected and stored on site for up to one year for recycling- Check your local regulations- they may be more stringent.
  • Shipments must be sent to a handler of universal waste or final recycling facility;
  • Businesses may not otherwise dispose of, mix with other waste or ‘treat’ mercury containing lamps.

Break one- here is what the EPA says you need to do for both CFL’s and Fluorescent tubes:



  • Contain any leakage in a container that will not react with nor release the contents.
  • Manage the waste in any way that is in compliance with applicable federal, state, and local regulations, if the waste is not hazardous.

Find battery recyclers near you.

Universal waste link: 40 CFR Part 273

List of State Programs