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Mammoth Fire Dept. warns CFL bulb users

May 11, 2012

 

We have all seen and are probably using compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) bulbs.  In many states, these will be the only light bulbs that will be available as the incandescent bulbs are phased out.  

Compared to the incandescent bulb, the CFL produces the same amount of light but consume less power (from 1/5 to 1/3) and have a longer service life (8 to 15 times).  But these light bulbs have some issues that must be considered in our quest to be better stewards of our planet. 

These new bulbs have several names: compact fluorescent lamp, compact fluorescent light, and compact fluorescent tube, all describing the replacement of the incandescent light bulb.  

The federal government has called for a total replacement of the incandescent bulbs with CFL bulbs by 2014.  In many places around the country, CFL bulbs are all that one can purchase.  Do NOT use CFL bulbs in a light fixture with a dimmer switch as the bulb may explode.

The CFL bulbs have small electronic ballasts in their base.  CFL bulbs do not burn out the way that incandescent bulbs do.  As a CFL bulb gets older and reaches the end of its life, the bulb will grow dimmer.  Some CFL bulbs will just quit producing light, while others will produce a dramatic popping sound and then generate a distinct odor (a sort of electrical smell). 

A few of the CFL bulbs will generate a volume of smoke and a blackened area near the base of the bulb as the ballast breaks down.  

The odor and smoke can quickly fill a normal sized room.  Unfortunately this characteristic is a normal part of the burnout of the CFL bulb.  It may appear that the bulb has caught fire due to the smell, the blackening of the base, and amount of smoke, but the bulb is performing as designed.

There has been a recall of one manufacturer of CFL bulbs.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission announced a recall of CFL bulbs manufactured by Chinese-manufactured Trisonic brand.  There have been four reported cases of incidents with the use of these bulbs, including two reported fires that resulted in minor damage.  

There are no reported cases of a fire resulting from the use of any other manufactured CFL bulbs.

A second item of concern is the mercury that is contained in the CFL bulbs.  This makes disposal practices of these bulbs very critical.  

If the tube of the bulb is broken, extra care must be exercised to ensure that the liquid or vapor emitted is not inhaled or allowed to come in contact with human skin. 

Symptoms of mercury poisoning include sensory impairment, lack of coordination, skin discoloration, and/or tingling, itching, burning or pain, or shedding of the skin. 

Injection due to cuts or lacerations into the body by broken bulbs is of particular concern.

Mercury poisoning to the body can be significant and dramatic.  

If introduced into the body through a cut, damage can occur to the cells in the area that requires long-term medical treatment.  Amputation is also a possibility.  

In the event of a broken CFL bulb, evacuate the room, taking care not to step on the broken glass; ventilate the room for a minimum of 15 minutes; do not use a vacuum to clean up the debris (this spreads the particles throughout the house); wearing gloves, spray lightly with a water mist, then sweep the debris into a dustpan (gently not to develop any dust) and place debris into a plastic bag; seal the bag.

Do not dispose of in an ordinary refuse receptacle.

The debris is lawfully designated a hazardous material and must be disposed of properly.  Mammoth Disposal will accept these bagged bulbs and working with Mono County will see that the bulbs go to the proper reclamation site.

A CFL might look benign, and make you feel good about “going green”, but a degree of awareness is necessary to properly use the bulbs and protect your loved ones.

For more information or for any questions pertaining to fire related issues, please feel free to contact the Mammoth Lakes Fire Department at 760-934-2300. 

Comments

It is important for consumers

May 25, 2012 by VaporLok (not verified), 2 years 12 weeks ago
Comment: 304

It is important for consumers to realize that CFLs and fluorescent bulbs require special handling and disposal, due to their mercury content. Like all mercury-containing fluorescent lights, CFLs should be properly stored, transported and recycled to prevent these fragile bulbs from breaking and emitting hazardous mercury vapor. They cannot be thrown away in the trash, but should be taken to a recycling center or disposed of by using a proven recycling box. However, taking them to a recycling center may not always be the most efficient solution. Consumers can use a recycling box to ship bulbs instead. If consumers choose this option, it is important to select a packaging configuration that effectively contains mercury vapor. A recent study conducted by the University of Minnesota tested the effectiveness of various packages in containing mercury vapor emitted from broken fluorescent lamps. The study found that many packages do not sufficiently contain mercury vapor, such as single-layer cardboard boxes (representing the original manufacturer’s box or container) as well as single layer boxes with a sealed plastic bag. Just one configuration—consisting of a zip-closure plastic-foil laminate bag layered between two cardboard boxes—minimized exposure levels below acceptable occupational limits, as defined by state and federal regulations and guidelines. Find out more about this proven packaging method at: http://vaporlok.blogspot.com/2010/05/layers-of-protection-packaging-used.... If a bulb breaks, consumers can learn more about clean-up procedures here: http://www.epa.gov/cfl/cflcleanup-detailed.html

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