Mammoth Fire Dept. warns CFL bulb users


We have all seen and are probably using compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) bulbs.  In many states, these will be the only light bulbs that will be available as the incandescent bulbs are phased out.  

Compared to the incandescent bulb, the CFL produces the same amount of light but consume less power (from 1/5 to 1/3) and have a longer service life (8 to 15 times).  But these light bulbs have some issues that must be considered in our quest to be better stewards of our planet. 

These new bulbs have several names: compact fluorescent lamp, compact fluorescent light, and compact fluorescent tube, all describing the replacement of the incandescent light bulb.  

The federal government has called for a total replacement of the incandescent bulbs with CFL bulbs by 2014.  In many places around the country, CFL bulbs are all that one can purchase.  Do NOT use CFL bulbs in a light fixture with a dimmer switch as the bulb may explode.

The CFL bulbs have small electronic ballasts in their base.  CFL bulbs do not burn out the way that incandescent bulbs do.  As a CFL bulb gets older and reaches the end of its life, the bulb will grow dimmer.  Some CFL bulbs will just quit producing light, while others will produce a dramatic popping sound and then generate a distinct odor (a sort of electrical smell). 

A few of the CFL bulbs will generate a volume of smoke and a blackened area near the base of the bulb as the ballast breaks down.  

The odor and smoke can quickly fill a normal sized room.  Unfortunately this characteristic is a normal part of the burnout of the CFL bulb.  It may appear that the bulb has caught fire due to the smell, the blackening of the base, and amount of smoke, but the bulb is performing as designed.

There has been a recall of one manufacturer of CFL bulbs.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission announced a recall of CFL bulbs manufactured by Chinese-manufactured Trisonic brand.  There have been four reported cases of incidents with the use of these bulbs, including two reported fires that resulted in minor damage.  

There are no reported cases of a fire resulting from the use of any other manufactured CFL bulbs.

A second item of concern is the mercury that is contained in the CFL bulbs.  This makes disposal practices of these bulbs very critical.  

If the tube of the bulb is broken, extra care must be exercised to ensure that the liquid or vapor emitted is not inhaled or allowed to come in contact with human skin. 

Symptoms of mercury poisoning include sensory impairment, lack of coordination, skin discoloration, and/or tingling, itching, burning or pain, or shedding of the skin. 

Injection due to cuts or lacerations into the body by broken bulbs is of particular concern.

Mercury poisoning to the body can be significant and dramatic.  

If introduced into the body through a cut, damage can occur to the cells in the area that requires long-term medical treatment.  Amputation is also a possibility.  

In the event of a broken CFL bulb, evacuate the room, taking care not to step on the broken glass; ventilate the room for a minimum of 15 minutes; do not use a vacuum to clean up the debris (this spreads the particles throughout the house); wearing gloves, spray lightly with a water mist, then sweep the debris into a dustpan (gently not to develop any dust) and place debris into a plastic bag; seal the bag.

Do not dispose of in an ordinary refuse receptacle.

The debris is lawfully designated a hazardous material and must be disposed of properly.  Mammoth Disposal will accept these bagged bulbs and working with Mono County will see that the bulbs go to the proper reclamation site.

A CFL might look benign, and make you feel good about “going green”, but a degree of awareness is necessary to properly use the bulbs and protect your loved ones.

For more information or for any questions pertaining to fire related issues, please feel free to contact the Mammoth Lakes Fire Department at 760-934-2300. 

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