Fluorescent tubes are very hazardous once exposed to the environment, the public, and even animals. The lighting tubes contain mercury, which is highly toxic to human health once inhaled.

If you incorrectly dispose of a broken fluorescent tube, the mercury can vaporize into the atmosphere to contaminate water supplies, poisoning animals and humans.

Mercury is highly poisonous to all humans. However, it is more problematic to pregnant women and may affect the babies' normal development in the wombs.

Mercury contamination usually occurs when people incinerate damaged fluorescent bulbs as incineration is the common way of handling waste disposed of in landfills.

How should you dispose of broken fluorescent tubes?

If your CFL tube breaks accidentally, follow the following steps to dispose of it safely. Please note that most states prohibit fluorescent tubes and bulbs from the garbage disposal. EPA recommends that such waste be taken to collection centres for recycling.

Let's get started.

Step1. Have everyone leave the room.

Step2. Aerate the room for 5-10 minutes. You can air it by opening the windows and the door.

Step3. Turn off your fan, heating, or air conditioning.

Step4. Collect the required materials for cleaning up the broken tube pieces. They include sticky tape, cardboard/stiff paper, dissolvable wet pipes/damp paper towels, and a sealable plastic bag. Do not vacuum the room unless you still have some broken glass debris remaining in the room. Vacuuming may spread the mercury vapour or mercury-containing powder across the room.

Step5.  Collect the broken tube pieces and any visible powder. Scoop up the pieces and powder using cardboard or stiff paper. Pick up the remaining small tube powder and fragments with duct tape.

Step6. Place the pieces and clean up materials in a sealable plastic bag.

Step7. Place all bulb pieces, debris, and clean up materials outdoors in the garbage container. Ensure that the area is secured and that nothing can tamper with the trash until the time to dispose of it. Don't leave any tube pieces, fragments, or clean up materials such as vacuum cleaner bags indoors.

Step8. Check with your municipality to know your area's hazardous waste disposal guidelines. Some local authorities require waste fluorescent tubes to be taken to recycling centres. If your local government doesn't require you to send the bulbs for recycling, you can dispose of the fragments with your household waste.

How to avoid breaking the fluorescent light bulb

In order to avoid any accident with your fluorescent light bulb, make sure you follow the following steps:

  • Switch off the working CFL bulb and allow it to cool before handling it.
  • Handle the fluorescent bulb carefully to prevent breakage. Don’t forcefully twist the bulb’s glass tubing. If possible, hold the ceramic or plastic base when screwing or unscrewing the bulb. Don’t hold the glass tubing.
  • Avoid installing the fluorescent light bulb in floor lamps or table lamps or in areas where they can be easily broken.

By following these steps, you'll be playing a critical role in protecting the environment and your household's health from mercury contamination. For more information about how to dispose of broken fluorescent tubes, consult your local poison control centre.