The new squiggly light bulbs (compact fluorescent lights or CFLs) are energy efficient, which is a good thing. But they contain a little bit of mercury which you can inhale if a bulb breaks and you go to clean it up – not so good. It’s not much mercury (less than 1/100th of what’s in an old mercury thermometer) so you don’t need to call the hazmat team! You can clean it up yourself, as long as you’re not pregnant, if you follow these pointers:
First, infants, small children, pets and pregnant women should stay out of the room and not return until several hours after clean up. Turn off the heat, AC or fans that might blow particles around. Close the room door and open the windows to let in fresh air. Do not use a vacuum, broom or metal dust pan – instead, get out the duct tape.
On hard surfaces (hardwood, tile, linoleum): Wearing disposable gloves, carefully pick up the pieces of glass and put them in a zip-lock back. Using stiff pieces of paper, gently push the rest of the light bulb’s remains, including any dust or tiny mercury beads, into small piles. (Don’t do this on carpeting.) Then carefully lift each pile and place it and the paper in another zip-lock bag. Using duct tape, or other sticky tape, blot the remaining debris until everything you can see is gone. Zip-lock bag the used tape. Now take damp paper towels and blot the whole area. Put the used paper towels and gloves in a zip-lock bag and then take all the zip lock bags out to the trash can. Wash your hands and face.
If one of these light bulbs breaks on a carpet or rug, tiny mercury bits may sink into fibers where they may emit vapors for a long time. After following the cleanup steps above, seriously consider removing the section of carpet where the bulb broke, especially if this is an area often used by small children or pregnant women. (Put the carpeting in a plastic bag in the outdoor trash.)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has more information on cleaning up broken CFL bulbs on their web site. http://www.epa.gov/cfl/cflcleanup.html