Compact Fluorescent Lamps, Safe Clean-Up

In our previous Newsletter (Spring 2008), we discussed the environmental benefits of switching from incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).  There is a small downside to CFLs though: like all other fluorescent lamps, they contain small amounts of mercury that can be released if broken.  And while the release from one or two broken lamps will not cause significant mercury exposure and is not a major cause for alarm, precautions should be taken because the clean-up can be tedious and in some cases VERY EXPENSIVE.  EPA has issued guidance to the general public for clean-up of broken fluorescent lamps, (  Some basic steps you should follow if you break a fluorescent lamp in your home are:

  • Evacuate the area for at least 15 minutes (those not involved in the clean-up should leave the area until the clean-up is complete, especially children and pets).
  • Do not step in the debris to avoid tracking it on your shoes.
  • Assemble your tools (flashlight, gloves, sealable plastic bags, cardboard or heavy paper, duct/masking tape, wet wipes or wet towel) before starting the clean-up; a few minutes of thoughtful preparation will save you from making the situation worse.
  • Sweep up what you can and use duct/masking tape to pickup smaller pieces of glass and place debris in double sealable plastic bags; avoid breathing dust.
  • Do Not use a vacuum cleaner on a hard (wood, tile, linoleum) surface.  If breakage contaminates carpeting, EPA suggests using a vacuum and immediately disposing of the vacuum bag as continued use may spread mercury contamination.

Cautious handling of mercury-containing lamps can help prevent breakage so that you may avoid the hassle and anxiety of cleaning up a mercury release.

  • Use the right tool for the job; use a step stool or ladder to reach the fixture when needed, as reaching for the fixture will cause you to focus more on your balance than the task at hand.
  • Make sure your hands are dry and free of oil or moisturizer.
  • Keep a firm grip on the lamp until it is seated in the fixture; CFLs are sturdier than incandescent lamps so they can be grasped a bit more firmly.

A little knowledge can go a long way to avoiding (or managing) an incident.  With some advanced planning and basic response tools on hand, everyone can Go Green safely.

Solvent Recovery Program

In continuing the Go Green effort at Columbia University, EH&S has been working with the Chemistry Department to expand a solvent recovery program aimed at laboratories using acetone for glass washing.  By recycling and reusing acetone, we hope to divert approximately 45 gallons of hazardous waste per month from our waste stream, reducing outgoing waste solvents and expenses by over 10%.  Acetone recycling will not only save money, it will keep more than 500 gallons of waste per year out of the environment!

Since 2003, the Medical Center has had two machines that recycle xylene and alcohols achieving comparable financial savings and environmental benefits. 

It doesn't have to stop there!  EH&S is also looking to expand its recycling efforts to other commonly used solvents used in everyday laboratory work.  If your lab would like to participate in the program give us a call; we look forward to speaking to you about taking part in this program. 

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