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Handling mercury

Tools for living    Healthy home    Repair, remodel and maintain safely    Handling mercury

Understand the risks associated with mercury, limit your exposure and dispose of mercury-containing products like CFL bulbs safely.

Mercury is a chemical element that occurs naturally in the environment. It is also toxic. Take care to limit your family’s exposure, and make sure to dispose of mercury-containing items safely to protect people and the environment from contamination.

The most common household product containing mercury is the energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulb. CFLs have gained popularity over the last several years because they conserve energy, save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. CFLs use only about a quarter of the energy incandescent bulbs use and last up to 10 times longer.

Understand the risks

All fluorescent bulbs contain small amounts of mercury. That includes not just the newly popular CFLs, but also the long-tube fluorescents used in businesses and schools.

Mercury is a heavy metal that harms the brain, liver and kidneys and can cause developmental disorders in children. Risks of exposure to mercury include inhaling the vapor after a spill, as in the case of a broken fluorescent bulb, and eating mercury-contaminated fish and seafood. Mercury can also be absorbed through the skin. Pregnant women and children are especially vulnerable to mercury-related health problems.

boy with CLF lightbulb

Sending burned out fluorescent bulbs to the landfill instead of to a hazardous waste facility can lead to mercury contamination in our air, water and soil, and accumulation in the food web. And careless cleanup of a mercury spill can put you at risk.

Handle mercury-containing products safely at home and at work

If you break a fluorescent light bulb, you will not be able to see the mercury.

  • Scoop up the pieces of the broken light bulb. Wear gloves to protect your hands.
  • Put all of the broken bits in a rigid container like an old paint can. Seal the container with a lid before placing it in the garbage.
  • Air out the room where the bulb was broken for at least 12 hours.

If you break a mercury thermometer or thermostat, try not to touch the mercury. If the spill is more than about 3 tablespoons, call Oregon Response System at 800-452-0311.

Find detailed instructions on mercury cleanup on the DEQ website

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Find a recycler

Use Metro's online recycler locator tool to find a place near you that accepts fluorescent bulbs, electronics, plastics, metal and many other materials. Go

Safely dispose of fluorescent bulbs and other mercury-containing items

Fluorescent light bulbs, both CFLs and long-tube bulbs, are hazardous waste and should not just be carelessly tossed in the trash.

Metro’s hazardous waste facilities take mercury-containing waste like burned out fluorescent bulbs and old thermometers that are not broken. (See above for how to handle broken bulbs.) Metro also organizes neighborhood collection events for hazardous waste.Learn more

In addition, many businesses in the community, like Home Depot and Lowe’s, voluntarily take burned out CFLs from customers. Learn more

Note: Be careful. Consider sealing bulbs in a rigid container or doubled up plastic bags before taking them to a hazardous waste facility. If they break in transit, the spill will be contained, protecting you and the environment. Metro’s hazardous waste facilities do not accept broken bulbs.

CFLs versus LEDs

The demand for energy-efficient lighting will only continue to increase. But are there alternatives to the mercury-containing CFLs that also conserve energy and save money?

Keep an eye out for LEDs (light-emitting diodes). LEDs contain no mercury and can last up to 10 times longer than CFLs. Some studies suggest that they are more reliable, too. Unfortunately, LEDs can also be as much as 10 times more expensive than CFLs, causing consumers to opt for short-term savings. But recent advances in LED technology are making these bulbs more versatile, and as they become more popular, the price may go down.

Find out more about LEDs

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503-797-1804 TDD
503-797-1797 fax