Release of Mercury From Broken Fluorescent Bulbs: Research Project Summary



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Trenton, N.J. : New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Science, Research and Technology


Mercury is a persistent, bioaccumulative toxin. The primary human exposure is from ingestion of fish contaminated with methyl mercury. However, exposures to elemental mercury vapor and mercury compounds via inhalation and dermal contact may also occur. Like many products, fluorescent bulbs contain mercury. Estimates of the amount of this mercury released when the bulbs are broken, which generally happens when the bulbs are discarded, have varied widely. A new method was developed to measure mercury released from broken bulbs. It was found that between 17% and 40% of the mercury in broken low-mercury fluorescent bulbs is released to the air during the two-week period immediately following breakage, with higher temperatures contributing to higher release rates. One-third of the mercury release occurs during the first 8 hours after breakage. Many fluorescent bulbs contain more mercury than the low-mercury bulbs tested; a typical bulb discarded in 2003 might release between 3 and 8 mg of elemental mercury vapors over two weeks. Since about 620 million fluorescent bulbs are discarded yearly in the U.S., discarded bulbs could release approximately 2 to 4 tons of mercury per year in the U.S. Airborne levels of mercury in the vicinity of recently broken bulbs could exceed occupational exposure limits.



New Jersey