Break a Compact Flourescent Bulb and Spend $2,000

No, really. Here is a really, really good reason NOT to buy compact flourescent bulbs (CFLs).

On that Tuesday, Bridges was installing one of the spiral-shaped light bulbs in her 7-year-old daughter’s bedroom. Suddenly, the bulb plummeted to the floor, breaking on the shag carpet.

Bridges, who was wary of the dangers of cleaning up a fluorescent bulb, called The Home Depot where she purchased them. She was told that the bulbs had mercury in them and that she should not vacuum the area where the bulb had broken. Bridges was directed to call the Poison Control hotline.

[…]

Upon reaching the DEP the next day, the agency offered to send a specialist out to Bridges’ house to test the air levels. The specialist arrived soon after the phone conversation and began testing the downstairs, where he found safe levels of mercury — below the state’s limit of 300 ng/m3 (nanograms per cubic meter).

In the daughter’s bedroom, the levels remained well below the 300 mark, except for near the carpet where the bulb broke. There the mercury levels spiked to 1,939 ng/m3. On a bag of toys that bulb fragments had landed on, the levels of mercury were 556 ng/m3.

Bridges was told by the specialist not to clean up the bulb and mercury powder by herself. He recommended the Clean Harbors Environmental Services branch in Hampden.

Clean Harbors gave Bridges a low-ball estimate of $2,000, based on what she described, to clean up the room properly. The work entailed removing anything with levels greater than 300 ng/m3, including the carpeting.

One month later, Bridges’ daughter’s bedroom remains sealed off with plastic “to avoid any dust blowing around” and to keep the family’s pets from going in and out of the room.

So much for saving money on her energy bill. Whatever she was going to save she has spent several times over. Not only has she spent quite a bit out of pocket, but also in lost time as well,

One month later, Bridges is still searching for answers. She has contacted staff members from the offices of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) to tell them about her situation but has received no response.

She has talked with representatives from the CDC and DEP and spent roughly two to three hours a day over the past several weeks, talking on the phone and in person and contacting local papers to get the word out on what she believes are dangerous light bulbs.

Let me see, if we assume it is 2 hours a day Monday through Friday for four weeks that is 40 hours or one entire work week wasted. Assuming say $15/hour that is $600 wasted in dealing with one borken CFL.

Of course, in actuality it is all a big steaming pile of Barvo Sierra.

State Toxicologist Andrew Smith said it would be unlikely that a person could contract mercury poisoning from the levels of mercury found in Bridges’ daughter’s room.

“In this situation, my understanding, was this 1,900 was the sign reading right at the spot of the floor where the bulb broke,” said Smith. “While 1,900 was certainly considered an elevated reading of mercury vapor, it was a very localized level that I would not expect to result in any sign of mercury exposure.”

Smith said mercury is only dangerous with long-term exposure and in this case the person would have to stay right at the spot of the 1,900 reading or there would have to be elevated levels of mercury vapor in the breathing zone — about 3 feet — above the spill. Mercury also dissipates over time.

The air in the bedroom at the 3-foot level measured between 31 to 49 ng/m3 of mercury, depending on the location.

Smith said a CFL light bulb breaking is not in the same category as when a mercury thermometer breaks.

Yay for the Nanny State!

Cleaning up a broken CFL bulb is actually pretty simple. Wear disposable coveralls (or old clothes that can be disposed of), protective eyewear, cloves and a dust mask, and make sure the room is well ventilated. Place the broken glass in a closed container and clean the dust with either two pieces of stiff paper, a disposable broom and dust-pan or a commerical mercury cleaning kit. Dispose of the dust, the glass and cleaning implements as “universal waste” (like a computer and flourescent blubls).

Of course it sounds like the lady in the story, Brandy Bridges, got ripped off and the Department of Environmental Protection was in large part to blame. After all, when somebody shows up from the government with a special device and tells you to get the help of a professional cleaning company that will carry lots of weight with many people.

Part of the blame, in my view, also can be placed on the environmentalists. For years the mantra has been “Mercury bad. Mercury bad. Mercury bad. Mercury bad. Mercury bad.” Now, when there is a minute amount of mercury in something that breaks in the house, get the Hazmat team in there on the double! Afterall mercury causes all sorts of horrible things and even a miniscule amount can do untold damage (not really).

Link coutesy of Debunkers.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Environment, , ,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.

Comments

  1. Anderson says:

    Bridges, who was wary of the dangers of cleaning up a fluorescent bulb, called The Home Depot where she purchased them.

    See, that’s where she went wrong.

    I would’ve gotten a dustpan, swept it up, and vacuumed the residue.

    Then maybe 30 years from now, I’d be dead of cancer or whatever, but everyone would be blaming the bourbon.

  2. Steve Plunk says:

    Anderson’s right. Clean it up the old fashioned way and get on with life. If these people thought involving professionals would be the best thing to do they are very naive.

    It reminds me of the incident near Santa Rosa recently. A milk truck leaked milk on the highway but before you knew it somebody decided it was an environmental hazard needing a hazmat cleanup. Thousands of dollars of expense for spilled milk.

    There are companies set up to take advantage of these sorts of things. It’s a cozy relationship between government and private sector. Government relies on private sector contractors like this to support new regulations and the private sector needs the regulations to have a reason to be in business. Many of the government workers later go to work for the private sector companies they worked with.

    Not all public/private partnerships are good for the taxpayers.

  3. Tlaloc says:

    I happen to work with mercury at work. You have to be cautious with it but it isn’t really all that bad. Elemental mercury is actually pretty harmless, it’s the inorganic compunds it forms that are highly damaging. There’s a powder in a mercury spill kit that will neutralize the mercury (can’t remember what it is but it reacts with the elemental mercury to form a harmless molecule before it can form any dangerous compounds). Dump a bunch of that on the spot and then vacuum it up, leave the windows open and maybe have the kid sleep on the couch for a few days and you should be just fine.

    Honestly the broken glass in shag carpet is probably a bigger risk than the mercury.

  4. Mark says:

    How much mercury is in one of these lightbulbs anyways? Is it around the same amount as what was in those old mercury thermometers?

  5. Christopher says:

    Steve,

    You are the one who needs the nanny! Vacuum the darn stuff up! Leave the window open if you are so worried! sheeeesh.

  6. Steve Verdon says:

    Christopher,

    Yeah I know. Read the last three paragraphs of the post.

  7. Triumph says:

    On that Tuesday, Bridges was installing one of the spiral-shaped light bulbs in her 7-year-old daughter’s bedroom. Suddenly, the bulb plummeted to the floor, breaking on the shag carpet.

    This story is a good example of why we should support Huckabee’s marriage promotion plans.

    If Bridges had kept her marriage together with the girl’s father, he would have changed the lightbulb and it would have dropped.

    How many single mothers does it take to change a light bulb?

  8. Anderson says:

    “Would not,” I think you meant, Triumph?

    Anyway, Steve missed the obvious lede: “How many Nanny Staters does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

  9. Steve Verdon says:

    Anyway, Steve missed the obvious lede: “How many Nanny Staters does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

    Doh!

  10. Michael says:

    How much mercury is in one of these lightbulbs anyways? Is it around the same amount as what was in those old mercury thermometers?

    Not much, as little as 5 milligrams depending on the manufacturer. The typical in-mouth mercury thermometer contained as much a 3 grams of mercury.

  11. Michael says:

    Correction, in-mouth thermometers only had about 0.5 grams (500 milligrams). It was the old-style thermostats (for airconditioners/heaters) that contained as much as 3 grams. Still, significantly less in the CFLs.

  12. Tano says:

    Why rag on the “nanny state” Steve? One agency was complicit here, but the state toxicologist seems to have had it right. It was Home Depot that set her on her path, and the businesses that smelled an opportunity to rip her off for a few thousand bucks.

    Maybe you should rag on the good ol’ “entrepreneurial spirit” that drives the private sector to ever more creative ways to separate people from their money!

  13. Christopher says:

    Wow, Tano, you sound upset. Is your bottom a little bit annoyingly itchy today from only using one square?

    What a typical liberal you are. Yes, yes, business might try and take advantage of people, but what would you rather have, her calling the government? No matter how corrupt private business is or can be or has been, it is a by far better way than government. Always has been, always will be.

  14. Tlaloc says:

    No matter how corrupt private business is or can be or has been, it is a by far better way than government. Always has been, always will be.

    Hrrrrmm.

    Enron
    Tyco
    Worldcom
    W.R. Grace
    Walter Reed

    Five huge scandals from just the last few years involving corporations. And I know that isn’t all of them, just the ones that leapt to mind. What are the major government scandals that were far far worse?

  15. Tano says:

    Gee Christopher, talk about an itchy bottom!

    Your only reaction seems to be to take this as an excuse for the same old name calling rants. Deal with the issue. It was a private company that told her not to clean up the light bulb. It was some private company that told her it would cost 2 grand, minimum, for them to do so. Are you defending that?

    As I stated, the DEP seemed somewhat complicit in this, although the state toxicologist was not. Add that all up, and I dont see how the central lesson of this story is, as Steve made it, that the problem is the “nanny state”.

  16. Django Bliss says:

    Bring on the LED light bulb replacements… anyone know when those are going to start reaching widespread store shelves?

  17. Michael Chance says:

    Bring on the LED light bulb replacements… anyone know when those are going to start reaching widespread store shelves?

    Where upon someone will determine that these have some dangerous component in them, and we’ll have a movement to start banning them as well.

    Better to curse the darkness…?

  18. Christopher says:

    Tano & Tlaloc, (is that like Batman & Robin?)

    What issue? What r u talking about? Who cares? It was some liberal housewife who doesn’t know her a** from a hole in the ground.

    Evil corporations-is that still the mantra of the liberals? Good-keep going with that. We conservatives and businessmen will keep talking about lower taxes, increased gov. revenues, decreasing deficits; unemployment down to 4.4% (!), wages up, growth up. It’s a sunny time in America, but you guys go hang out in the freezer. Oh, and lock the door.

  19. Anderson says:

    It was some liberal housewife who doesn’t know her a** from a hole in the ground.

    Hence the liberal passion for sodomy, I presume.

  20. Tim C says:

    We used to on rare occasions play with mercury when I was a kid. Even in science class. Now it’s so bad that recently in Washington DC a gram or less of mercury was spilled in a science class at a high school, and they evacuated the school and kept it closed for several days while it was decontaminated.