Monday, July 26, 2010

Potential Exposure of Mercury Due to Broken Fluorescent Lamps In the Workplace

Like many products, fluorescent lamps—which are used in many workplaces due to their significant energy savings—contain hazardous mercury. Estimates of the amount of mercury released when the lamps are broken—which typically occurs when used lights are discarded—have varied widely.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection published a study dealing with the potential exposure of mercury due to broken bulbs in the workplace in the "Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association." Based on a new method used to measure mercury released from broken lamps, it was found that 17% to 40% of the mercury in broken low-mercury fluorescent lamps 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.

These findings indicate that airborne levels of mercury in the vicinity of recently broken bulbs could exceed occupational exposure limits, as defined by state and federal authorities. A better method of containment is required to protect consumers and transporters against the release of mercury in case of breakage and to satisfy both OSHA and Universal Waste regulations.

A recently patented packaging system including a zip-closure plastic-foil laminate bag layered between two cardboard boxes has been proven to effectively contain mercury vapor.

Brad Buscher
Chairman and CEO
VaporLok Products LLC

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

CFL Usage and What You Should Do If a CFL Breaks in Your Home

As a result of a growing green movement and new government regulations—including an Act of Congress to cease the manufacture of incandescent lamps by 2013—the use of more energy efficient lights, such as CFLs, continues to increase. Like all fluorescent lights, CFLs contain hazardous mercury vapor, which is emitted when these fragile bulbs break and causes significant health and safety issues, as well as environmental concerns.

What should you do if a CFL breaks in your home? A Maine Compact Fluorescent Lamp Breakage Study found that mercury concentration in a room can exceed permissible exposure levels, even from the breakage of a single CFL. For a clean-up guide, click here:

Brad Buscher
Chairman and CEO
VaporLok Products LLC

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Additional State Regulations

While the federal government doesn't require recycling of all fluorescent lighting, several states have addressed this health issue with their own, more specific regulations regarding fluorescent lamp disposal. Minnesota, Massachusetts, California and Vermont are among states that prohibit disposal of all mercury-product waste in landfills. New York has a similar ban, with an exemption for households and businesses with 100 or less employees disposing of 15 or less non-hazardous waste lamps per month. Many other states prohibit non-household generators from disposing of any mercury containing fluorescent lamps in solid waste landfills regardless of TCLP test results, including Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Florida and Rhode Island.

Peder Larson
Larkin Hoffman

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Permissible Exposure Limits—Are You Being Exposed to Unsafe Levels of Mercury Vapor?

The Federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) set a mercury permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 0.1 mg/m3 (8-hr time-weighted average [TWA]).1 Some state OSHA programs regulate a stricter mercury vapor limit of 0.05 mg/m3 (8-hr TWA). Additionally, the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) recommends an a guideline of 0.025 mg/m3; this is the same value regulated by California OSHA.2

One broken 48-inch fluorescent lamp in a small room or vehicle can release enough mercury vapor to exceed the Federal OSHA PEL. Mercury vapor concentrations could exceed occupational exposure levels when working with or near broken bulbs, especially when multiple bulbs are stored or shipped in bulk to recycling facilities. Based on measurements of mercury vapor from single broken fluorescent bulbs, there is a need for additional research to quantify emissions from various types of packaging. The results indicate that emissions from packages not designed to contain mercury vapor represent a real health and safety concern to those involved in its storage, transport and disposal, as well as a legal hazard for any businesses that do not adhere to these stipulations. Recent research has shown that only one current package design which includes a vapor resistant and zip seal bag has proven effective in containing mercury vapor.

1. Occupational Health and Safety Standards: Air Contaminants. CFR, Part 1910.1000, Title 29, 2007.
2. Documentation of the Threshold Limit Values and Biological Exposure Indices, 7th ed.; National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health: Cincinnati, OH, 2001.

Lisa Brosseau, ScD, CIH
Associate Professor
University of Minnesota School of Public Health, Division of Environmental Health Sciences

Friday, July 2, 2010

Compounding Mercury Vapor Exposure

Along with the common uses of mercury vapor in fluorescent lamps and compact fluorescent lamps, mercury compounds also have many uses. Calomel (mercurous chloride, Hg2Cl2) is a standard in electrochemical measurements and in medicine as a purgative. Mercuric chloride (corrosive sublimate, HgCl2) is an insecticide, a rat poison, and a disinfectant. Mercuric oxide is used in skin ointments. Mercuric sulfate is a catalyst in organic chemistry. Vermilion, a red pigment, is mercuric sulfide; another crystalline form of the sulfide (also used as a pigment) is black. Mercury fulminate, Hg(CNO)2, is a detonator. Mercury forms many organic compounds. Mercurochrome (in 2% aqueous solution) is used in medicine as a topical antiseptic. Whatever the usage, any products that can emit dangerous levels of mercury should be stored and transported in a packaging configuration proven to contain mercury vapor. Currently, only one package design, which includes a vapor resistant and zip seal bag, has proven effective in containing mercury vapor.

Brad Buscher
Chairman and CEO
VaporLok Products LLC

Thursday, July 1, 2010

You May Be Exposed to More Mercury Than You Think

Today, mercury continues to be used in many products, primarily in fluorescent lamps and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) in offices, stores and homes. Because of its high density, it is also used in barometers and manometers. Due to its high rate of thermal expansion—which remains fairly constant over a wide temperature range—mercury is also used extensively in thermometers and thermostats. Mercury-vapor lamps, which emit light rich in ultraviolet radiation, are used for street lighting, in water treatment plants as a disinfectant, and in tanning beds. Mercury is used as an electrode in the production of chlorine and sodium hydroxide and in certain electric batteries. Mercury is important as an electrical contact for switches, and mercury conducts the charge in fluorescent lamps.

Exposure typically comes from inhaling mercury vapors. For most of us, fluorescent lamps present the single greatest risk of mercury exposure in the work place. A recent study of exposure to broken "low mercury" lamps by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection entitled "Release of Mercury from Broken Fluorescent Bulbs" demonstrated that "elevated airborne levels of mercury could exist in the vicinity of recently broken lamps, and "could exceed occupational exposure limits."

There is currently significant risk in transporting fluorescent lamps and CFLs, as there are no packaging standards and few regulations in place requiring proper packaging for storage and transportation. To protect against mercury vapor exposure from used fluorescent lamps and other mercury-containing devices, these products should be stored and transported in a packaging configuration proven to contain mercury vapor. One current design includes a vapor resistant and zip seal bag and is the only design that has proven effective in containing mercury vapor.

Brad Buscher
Chairman and CEO
VaporLok Products LLC