Breaking any light bulb is annoying. But breaking a fluorescent bulb or tube is actually dangerous, because fluorescent lighting contains mercury dust, which is harmful to inhale.
Mercury doesn’t absorb into the skin easily, so don’t freak out if you accidentally touch it, but do avoid breathing the dust or vapors.
Safely clean up a broken fluorescent bulb
The first thing you’ll want to do when cleaning up a fluorescent bulb is to cover your mouth and nose with a bandanna or cloth and open the windows for ventilation. Leave the room immediately, taking people and pets with you. Close the door behind you and let the dust settle for at least 10 minutes.
If you have central air, turn it off right away to avoid spreading mercury vapors. (Leave it off several hours after cleanup.) To avoid further contamination, do NOT vacuum or sweep the mess.
Instead, put on a pair of rubber or latex gloves and scoop up larger pieces with cardboard or stiff paper. Use duct tape to collect smaller fragments and powder. Then wipe down the area with a damp paper towel and place all cleanup materials and debris into a glass jar or double-plastic bag.
Seal the jar or bag and wash your hands thoroughly.
Properly dispose of fluorescent bulbs
Fluorescent bulbs are more durable than traditional incandescents and most enter the trash unbroken. However, they do break easily in the trash and can become a danger to sanitation workers and the environment.
Some municipalities require broken fluorescents to be taken to the recycling center, while others will tell you to dispose of them with the regular household trash. Check with your local recycling or household hazardous waste facility to find out what to do in your municipality.
Home improvement stores and other retailers that sell fluorescent bulb sometimes have collection bins at their entrance to make it easy for consumers to recycle the used or broken bulbs.
You can also visit search.Earth911.com to find a nearby collection center that accepts fluorescent bulbs
Good to know
Consider LED bulbs to avoid fluorescents altogether. While fluorescent lighting uses only a fourth of the energy of a traditional incandescent bulb, LED lighting beats them both.
The price for LEDs has dropped considerably and they can last more than 20 years.
LED lights do contain toxic metals (mercury is not one of them), but they are highly durable and, unlike fluorescents, they do not break easily.