The use of energy-saving light bulbs (ESLBs) has increased lately due to the economic situation and a desire to save on the electricity bill. Dr. Ansam Sawalha, director of PCDIC, states that such ESLBs contain the toxic heavy metal mercury, which, as is common knowledge, is a toxic element that produces adverse health effects for humans in addition to the environment. If an ESLB is broken the mercury can leak into the environment causing its toxicities to become exposed and take effect. Thus it is of great importance to discard of a broken ESLB properly. Stringent caution should be exercised when ESLBs are replaced and handled so as to not run the risk of breakage.
Dr. Sawalha emphasizes that there are guidelines to be practiced when cleaning the debris of broken ESLBs. For example, using a vacuum cleaner is contraindicated for cleaning broken ESLBs since this can lead to mercury contamination of the vacuum, spreading into mercury vapor. Mercury should never be dumped in the municipal sewer system via any avenue – toilet, sink, drain, etc. In the case of mercury being spilled on clothing, it should never be washed in the washer since it will lead to contamination of the washing machine itself in addition to that of the waste water system.
Safe practices for exposure to mercury include: opening windows and ventilate room for 15 minutes, not walking on the contaminated area, and closing the central air conditioning units if present.
Cleaning the floor:
- For solid floor such as tile, the broken ESLB should be collected using cardboard or plastic and discarded of in a glass container or plastic bag. A piece of wide tape should be used to collect the small broken pieces and the powder remnants, and then a wet cloth should be used to wipe the area clean. All items used in the cleaning process should be placed in a plastic bag or glass container that should be sealed and closed tightly.
- For carpet-covered floor, the broken glass should be collected by picking it by gloved hands, and then disposed of in a glass container or plastic bag. A piece of wide tape should then be used to pick up any remaining glass pieces and powder. Finally, a vacuum cleaner should be used to clean the carpet. The bag of the vacuum cleaner and the wide tape should all be placed in the glass container or a plastic bag which should then be sealed tightly.
If the ESLB was broken on a piece of cloth or bed cover, all of the pieces should be discarded of. All items contaminated with mercury should be placed in the skip for regular trash pick up. The PCDIC is concerned about the safety of the citizens and environment of Palestine and it strongly requests the responsible agencies to set standards to collect, recycle and/or dispose these light bulbs accordingly.