Avoid using compact fluorescent light bulbs in lamps children can reach; broken bulbs release mercury

CFB.jpgLaura shares a wise warning about compact fluorescent light bulbs:

My husband and I want to share a parent hack that we've learned the hard way — If you have small children, do not put compact fluorescent bulbs in lamps that can be easily knocked over! We had CFLs in all of our fixtures to save energy and money; but when my son accidentally knocked into the floor lamp and it tumbled, the CFL bulb shattered into our carpet. Due to the risk of mercury poisoning, a broken CFL is very dangerous, especially to kids! We had to air out the room in VERY cold weather and clean up a real mess.

Do yourself a favor and spare yourself the worry of accidental mercury poisoning — just use incandescents in lamps that kids have access to!

I'm so glad you mentioned this, Laura. I just read the EPA's mercury cleanup guidelines –a big deal indeed. Not only do you have to air out the room, but you must discard any clothing that comes into contact with broken light bulb material. Apparently, washing it could contaminate your washing machine.

More: Hacks for your home


  1. Alice says

    Having worked in the chemical industry and been familiar with the strict regulations on mercury, it amazes me that the government allows and even encourages use of these bulbs. Only incandescent bulbs for my family! Its not worth the risk.

  2. Christian says

    THey sell CFL’s that are sealed in a thick glass bulb. They give off the same CFL shades of light, save the same amount of energy, but reduce the risk of a break.

    They are simply a normal CFL inside of a bulb.

  3. Julian says

    Even without worrying about mercury, the glass is so thin and shaped in such a way that it breaks into miniscule little pieces that are impossible to find/collect… Especially if the rug has any hint of shininess to it…

  4. D. says

    Laura: Did you go to a doctor and have tests for mercury poisoning performed on your son and your family? If so what were the results?

    I’m not questioning the toxicity of mercury, the common sense approach to cleaning up an accident or taking measures to avoid the accident completely.

    I do question the actual threat posed from a accidental breakage of a CFL. If someone can find where the EPA cites real life examples of people being poisoned and harmed by accidental CFL breakage I’d appreciate it.

    Snopes has this to say:


  5. P says

    The EPA site is talking of the big fluorescent bulbs. I agree check out snopes it has a better handling of the SMALL bulbs!

  6. says

    That’s awful! And they are thinking of outlawing the regular lightbulbs? I’m sorry but children’s safety is more important than “greenness”. I use the little swirly ones now, but I don’t have kids.

    Can’t wait till LED lightbulbs become practical!

  7. mmbb says

    Information is a good thing to share, so I’ll share this. Calm down, peoples!

    A CFL containing 5 mg of mercury breaks in your child’s bedroom that has a volume of about 25 m3 (which corresponds to a medium sized bedroom). The entire 5 mg of mercury vaporizes immediately (an unlikely occurrence), resulting in an airborne mercury concentration in this room of 0.2 mg/m3. This concentration will decrease with time, as air in the room leaves and is replaced by air from outside or from a different room. As a result, concentrations of mercury in the room will likely approach zero after about an hour or so.
    Information is a good thing, so I’ll share this:

    Under these relatively conservative assumptions, this level and duration of mercury exposure is not likely to be dangerous, as it is lower than the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard of 0.05 mg/m3 of metallic mercury vapor averaged over eight hours. [To equate these values, we could estimate the average indoor airborne mercury concentration for 8 hours, beginning post-spill at an estimated starting value of 0.2 mg/m3 and decreasing from there. If one assumes the the air exchanges completely in one hour (a fairly standard assumption), then the 8-hour average concentration would be 0.025 mg/m3.]


  8. K says

    another thing that is an issue for a small population of which I am one… fluorescents of any type (and these count) have an unpleasant side effect of exacerbating certain types of seizures and migraines. For you lucky normies, check the illumination to be sure you aren’t “over illuminated” – consider a good lampshade to minimize eyestrain. I love green tech, but this particular kind doesn’t love me. And it may not love you. LEDs may be a good solution, or use in combination with windows and incandescents. You can use them – but you can use them better by being strategic about where and how! Love to all.

  9. Becky C. says

    mmbb – I agree that information is a good thing, but the risk calculations you are citing are applicable to a workplace scenario, not a potential exposure in the home, and are assuming exposure to adults, which is a very different scenario than considering (potentially chronic) exposure to children.
    The EPA guidelines that are linked are directly addressing cleaning up a broken CFL, and, while very thorough, are important to ensure that by cleaning up the broken bulb you are not spreading mercury to other parts of the home. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have them printed out and in handy place if you use CFLs in your home.
    And if you have a light that absolutely has to be in a place your kids can reach, I would recommend shelling out for the shatterproof bulbs. They have saved our bacon a couple times…

  10. says

    Hi all,

    Great discussion here. I’m not one who likes to spread hysteria which is why I don’t post about every single recall and toy-related injury here. But as Becky said, those EPA guidelines specifically refer to CFL bulbs.

    It’s also important to note that some kids/people are more susceptible to toxicity than others. I think this is good info to have in order to make informed decisions about the products you keep in your home.

  11. APrescott says

    What worries me more is the use of these same bulbs in animal agricultural production. This practice is becoming more common and if one is broken, neither people nor animals are being evacuated. This is relative to the safe foods issue but no one is talking about it. The growth of CFL usage showed 375 million bulbs sold in 2007 even that number times the 5 milligrams of mercury per bulb is frightening. I know that number has grown. It has to be going somewhere. Most states aren’t regulating disposal by non commercial users, which most contract growers are listed as non commercial. Thoughts?