Toxic waste from flourescent lights

As I understand it, flourescent tubes contain a drop of mercury. Given the large number of flourescent tubes that are trashed every year, how much mercury goes into the environment from them?

Or have flourescent tubes’s mercury been replaced with something less toxic. If not, then why is it that people seem to be unaware than putting them in dumpsters constitutes an environmental hazard?

From this thread: Mercury Hysteria

National Electrical Manufacturer’s Association on Mercury in lamps

Burned out fluorescent tubes are considered hazmat by Boeing and are treated as such.

Most places that use a large amount of flourescent lights (office buildings, schools, hiospitals, etc…) dispose of them properly. I know that at the hospital I work at, they have a bulb eater. You put in the tube and let er rip. It crsuhes the glass and a vacumm sucks in the gas to a safe chamber. I suspet the mercury goes with the glass. When it’s full, a special disposal company gets rid of it.

Mercury containing lamps (most fluorescent bulbs) are classified as a Universal Waste by the EPA and are considered hazardous waste if not recycled. (There are “green” lamps that cost a little extra but are not considered hazardous.) Facilities with more than 5000 kg are strongly encouraged to recycle their lamps.

Household generation is exempt under 335-14-2-.01(4)(b)1. of the Alabama Administrative Code (40 CFR 261 of the federal code). This means it’s ok to put in the garbage as long as the garbage is going to a Municipal Solid Waste Land Fill (a lined garbage landfill).

I am an environmental scientist. However, unless you are far too attached to college football, Rosa L. Parks and/or rebel flags, odds are I am not working in your state. For more information, please contact your state environmental agency.

EPA’s 1997 study estimated about 1.5 tons per year of mercury emissions from lamp breakage (in 1994-1995), out of a total of 158 tons.
Now another chunk of mercury comes from lamps that are thrown in the garbage and subsequently incinerated. My rough guess is about another 1.5 tons, so say 2 percent of the total.

The gross amount has probably risen since 1995, as more flourescent bulbs are used. Nobody seems to have found a substitute yet, and even though manufactureres may be using a little less per bulb, there are a lot more bulbs being made.

Whay are people unaware? Well, the best answer is that making individuals aware of it hasn’t been a priority for government agencies or (very much) for environmental groups. Even the little mercury in a flourescent bulb is a Bad Thing, but it would be a big effort to enforce haz waste regulations for individuals tossing a single bulb and/or convince them not to do it voluntarily. And saving energy by using more efficient bulbs is in general a Good Thing. So the effort has been deemed (I think rightly) not worth it.

As opposed to educating and/or enforcing haz waste laws for large facilities, where you only need to reach one person to affect thousands of bulbs a year. This government agencies have done and, as previous posts demonstrate, most large facility managers are getting the message about proper disposal of mercury bulbs.

Many agencies have been working on educating individuals about mercury thermometers (and to a lesser degree thermostats and other switches). These have a LOT of mercury compared to a light bulb, so it’s a little better use of resources to try and teach people about them.

So bottom line: it’s an environmental hazard, but not the biggest hazard we’re facing right now, so groups with limited resources have focused on other things.

If the fluorescent tubes end up in a landfill which is sealed from groundwater and capped there is not much environmental damage (at least relative to other sources of Mercury). Most of the Mercury in our water and fish we eat comes from atmospheric deposition.

If you are really bored, USEPA has a computer model you can play around with to estimate mercury loading from disposal of fluorescent tubes under different disposal scenarios.

So I guess chucking them like spears just to hear them explode in the alley wasn’t a terribly eco-friendly thing to do. Who knew?
I was just a kid!

Don’t feel too bad, we played lightsabers with 'em. :smack:

I had a couple of dead flourescent lights to dispose of just last week. A call to the local waste management authorities revealed that households in my area could dispose of up to 25 bulbs at a time to the local landill. Now granted, no home owner is going to have that many bulbs to throw out at one time, but still, at first blush this seemed like an overly relaxed regulation. However:

amount of Hg per lamp (using Squink’s posted number)= 11.6 mg
x25 lamps= 290 mg

Amount of Hg per oral thermometer= ~50ul (according to various websites and my own dead reckoning)
x 13.6 mg/ul (the density of Hg) = 680 mg

Thus, the tossing of one baby oral thermometer is equivalent to tossing 58 flourescent tubes. So it make sense that more effort shoud be expended in intercepting the larger sources of Hg, like thermometers, while tolerating the one or two lamps per year that a homeowner may toss. Heck, in my town, these modern-day sources of Hg are probably miniscule compared to the amounts of Hg known to be leaching out of the ground from gold-mining done over 100 years ago…in fact, warnings to limit the consumption of fish from the local lakes and rivers were recently announced because of this legacy.

What’s likely to happen is that I toss my two old fluorescent tubes into my trash can, the trash collector picks up the trash and compacts his load, resulting in the tubes bieng crushed.

How much mercury evaporates during the time the truck transits along its route until the mercury is buried and covered over in a landfill?