State officials are trying to find a way to safely dispose of the thousands of compact fluorescent lightbulbs that are sold in Iowa every year. Theresa Stiner of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources says more and more consumers are buying the small, spiral-shaped fluorescent bulbs as they last longer and use less energy.
But Stiner says they also contain a small amount of mercury, which means they need to be recycled. "Mercury is a potent neurotoxin of particular concern for young children and women who are pregnant because it can cause developmental delays," she says. When the bulbs break, mercury vapor is released, so that’s why Stiner is encouraging Iowans to take discarded bulbs to one of the 59 hazardous materials collection centers around the state.
"If you’re tossing it in your trashcan and scraping it in your trashcan, then you would have that mercury in your house," Stiner says. "Or when it goes to the (garbage) truck, you’re exposing the workers to that." If you break the bulb in your home, you should not handle the breakage with your hands. Scraping it up with paper or cardboard that you discard as well.
Some even suggest getting rid of what the bulb pieces fall on — even carpeting — if there’s a child in the home because of mercury is released. "You know, as long as the bulb is whole it’s safe," she says. "It’s once you break it." Legislators briefly considered requiring retailers to take back these used bulbs in the same way empty drink containers are recycled in Iowa, but retailers objected. Stiner says the manufacturers of the bulbs should probably be held responsible.
Iowa legislators have asked the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to come up with a plan for disposing of the bulbs. Americans bought 290 million compact fluorescent lightbulbs last year.