Risks of a broken bulb

Scientists at the Health Protection Agency have reviewed the potential health effects of mercury exposure from broken compact fluorescent light bulbs. They found the exposure is likely to be very small – and much lower than from other broken mercury-containing products such as some types of thermometer and barometers.

Professor Virginia Murray, Consultant Medical Toxicologist, said: “Compact fluorescent light bulbs contain a tiny amount of mercury – roughly enough to cover the tip of a ball point pen.  A small proportion of this could be released into a room if the bulb is broken, but this does not pose a health risk to anyone immediately exposed.

“As a precautionary measure, the Health Protection Agency advise that the room should be ventilated and the bulb cleaned up and disposed of properly.”


Cleaning up a broken bulb

The amount of mercury in a low energy bulb is between 1.2 to 4 milligrams even though the amount is very small, you should still follow the following guidelines given, by the Health Protection agency, to safely remove the broken bulb.


Vacate the room and keep children and pets out of the affected area. Shut off central air conditioning system, if you have one.

Ventilate the room by opening the windows for at least 15 minutes before clean up.

Do not use a vacuum cleaner, but clean up using rubber gloves and aim to avoid creating and inhaling airborne dust as much as possible.

Cleaning up

On hard surfaces sweep up all particles and glass fragments with stiff cardboard and place everything, including the cardboard, in a plastic bag. Wipe the area with a damp cloth and then add that to the bag. Household cleaning products should be avoided during clean up despite the very small amount of mercury involved.
On soft furnishings and carpets, do not use a damp cloth, just sticky tape to pick up small residual CFL pieces or powder from soft furnishings and then add that to the bag.

Disposing of the bulb
The plastic bag should be reasonably sturdy and needs to be sealed, but it does not need to be air tight. The sealed plastic bag should be double-bagged to minimise cuts from broken glass.

The bag with all broken pieces and cleaning items should then be taken to your local council recycling centre, where you will find a special section for WEEE.


The recycling process

The energy-saving light bulbs are collected and taken to our specialist recycling facilities, where the materials are separated and recovered.

We can recover up to 95% of the materials:

  • Phosphor powders, particularly the triphosphor type can be used to make new lamps.
  • Mercury, when purified to the right level, may also be used to make new lamps or it may be used in other industrial processes.
  • The crushed glass may also be returned to be mixed with a new glass melt for a variety of applications, from furnace linings to making new lamps.