Going Green…Safely! - Continues from Page 1
Why is this important? The “mercury” buried in all that jargon is present in ALL fluorescent lamps and can pose a health and environmental hazard if released. The typical 4 foot fluorescent lamp in your office contains 12–15 mg of mercury and a CFL contains 5-6 mg of mercury (http://www.nema.org/media/pr/20070313a.cfm). While this might not seem like a lot, we must also remember that we are exposed to mercury from a variety of other sources (http://www.who.int/phe/news/Mercury-flyer.pdf), and following some basic practices when handling mercury-containing lamps is prudent (and in some cases required by law).
Businesses are required to manage discarded fluorescent lamps as hazardous materials; they are not permitted to dispose of fluorescent lamps in the trash, but rather must have them recycled or treated as hazardous waste. Fluorescent lamps generated by households are exempt from these laws, but mercury is mercury and does not discriminate by its point of entry into the environment. That said, all households are encouraged to recycle their mercury-containing lamps. Many municipalities host household hazardous waste collection days where homeowners can bring all of their hazardous materials for no cost, safe disposal; another option is to contact your building manager or superintendent. If you live in Columbia University housing, your mercury-containing lamps will be accepted for recycling through the University’s lamp recycling program (FYI … Columbia recycled roughly 300,000 linear feet, or 56 miles, of fluorescent lamps in the past 3 years from our all of our buildings).
Contact your building superintendent for handling/disposal instructions.
Since all fluorescent lamps contain mercury, if you accidentally break a fluorescent lamp in your home, certain instructions should be followed to avoid personal exposure and spread of mercury contamination (http://www.energystar.gov/ia/partners/promotions/change_light/downloads/Fact_Sheet_Mercury.pdf).
Warning Signs and Safety
EH&RS/EH&S staff recently encountered two situations in which highly visible warning signs were ignored by laboratory personnel, resulting in potentially dangerous situations.
First, a researcher ignored a “No Flammables” sign on the lab refrigerator, storing a 250 mL bottle of ethanol. Luckily, an EH&RS/EH&S inspection discovered the bottle, averting the risk of flammable vapors being ignited by a spark from the refrigerator’s motor. Had the discovery occurred during the weekly Fire Department inspection, the laboratory would have received a Notice of Violation.
In the second situation, EH&RS/EH&S personnel sealed off a tissue culture room contaminated by a chemical spill and posted caution tape across the door and a “Do Not Enter” sign over the door handle. A researcher (concerned for his experiment) displaced the warning signs and entered the room. Upon exiting the room, the researcher tracked hazardous waste into the corridor, necessitating further clean up by EH&RS/EH&S. The researcher was unharmed.
Warning signs and labels, whether on chemical bottles, laboratory equipment, or in no-access areas of the facility, must be heeded at all times. If you have any questions about any of the signage in your area, please feel free to contact EH&RS/EH&S.
Thanks to the cooperation of researchers on all campuses, EH&RS/EH&S is pleased to report that Columbia University has complied with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reporting requirements regarding “chemicals of interest” (COIs). Hundreds of inventory submissions and inquiries allowed EH&RS/EH&S to compile the data needed for on-time reporting to the federal government. Thank you to all who contributed to this effort.