December 13, 2010

Let's all panic about mercury

We've had a burnt out light fixture in our master bathroom for weeks. It's high enough that it requires a ladder to change it and the bulb is a special halogen one that requires a trip to Home Depot to purchase. It's not a big deal, but is just annoying enough that we had put it off nonetheless.You can imagine how delighted we both were to discover, after dragging out the ladder, that a new bulb didn't fix it and now, after much testing of breakers and messing with switches and fan cords, the fan isn't working either.  Awesome.

But, really? That's not the point of this story.

During the process of figuring out our bathroom light was (is?) finito, I left a basket of extra bulbs on the dryer in the laundry room.  About 10 minutes later Mark officially declared the bathroom light dead and mentioned that the extra bulbs had fallen off the dryer because it was running and the basket bounced right off the edge - gosh, good thinking, Susan - leaving broken glass all over the laundry room floor. I was thrilled both with my forward thinking and also the realization that I was probably going to have to clean up that mess since I had basically made it.

When I walked into the laundry room I saw that, miraculously, a whole bunch of bulbs had NOT broken, but what had shattered was one, giant compact fluorescent floodlight. You know, those bulbs that are supposed to be recycled, not just thrown in the trash, because they're full of MERCURY.

Red alert.

Mark stayed completely calm as I learned, via the wonders of the World Wide Web, that while the EPA doesn't recommend you call in a Haz-Mat team, they'll scare you right to the edge of doing just that. (EPA RECOMMENDATIONS) You can find conflicting reports on how dangerous this smashed up mercury tube really is, but the bottom line is that you're not cleaning up your run-of-the-mill broken pickle jar here.

The boys were really good while we locked them in the basement calmly asked them to play downstairs as we cleaned up a pile of broken glass using cardstock, duct tape and wet paper towels. The most fun part of the cleanup was that we had, in accordance with government recommendations, turned off our furnace and had opened doors for ventilation while the mercury vapor...vaporized.  Cleaning the floor with numb fingers, in very tight, VERY COLD quarters was a blast.  I had so much fun that I could almost forget I had possibly mercury poisoned my family.

We were eventually left with a sparkling clean laundry room floor, a whole pile of laundry, a bag and sealed jar of contaminated glass and duct tape and a lot of apprehension. Did we overreact!? Did we underreact?! Who left us home alone?!

I talked to a Hazardous Waste Expert at the city today (Hi, Tamra!) about what to do with the bag of glass and cleaning supplies that we've got sealed up sitting outside our garage. Tamra said we done good and she gave me permission to stop worrying.  She assured me that the amount of mercury (dust, vapor?) in the bulb is neglibile and that the EPA suggestions are designed to move you into overreaction. 

If you're still with me, I'll leave you with these thoughts...I know that these bulbs save energy and are environmentally-friendly and we're all being urged to use them in our homes.  BUT, let my stupidity be a reminder. As educational as this was,you might want to consider carefully where in your house you use CFLs and remember to handle them with caution.  I would also maybe ditch the mercury thermometers while you're at it. That clean up sounds even more fun.

p.s. Any brilliant suggestions about our bathroom light? It's dark in there.


Rosemary said...

Oh, my heavens! I followed your link & became duly alarmed about those bulbs & mercury. Sounds as though you all did a thorough job cleaning it all up and disposing of it correctly. You all are having such "lovely" weather that I can imagine how cold it got in that laundry room while you aired it out & cleaned it. Kudos to you! Glad your friend assured you that all was going to be well. Yes, I believe I'll pitch the old thermometer that I THINK is still around. (P.S.I removed my first post because of an error.)

kerikish said...

I didn't know those things have mercury in them. Your post was like a "the more you know" PSA! Thanks for teaching me something. I'm sorry that you had to go through that--how scary! Is there room for a pole lamp for light? Or an extra outlet that you can plug a light into that can be hung on a wall? If you want a good electrician for a good price, I can get you the my parents use. Maybe he could rewire for normal lighting.

Maria said...

Sounds AWFUL! Sorry you had to go through that but so glad you educated us all!