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EPA Updates CFL Cleanup and PCB Exposure Guidance

Environmental Protection

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency updated its guidance on how to properly clean up a broken compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) as well as guidance recommending that schools take steps to reduce potential exposures to PCBs from older fluorescent lighting fixtures.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency includes in its updated guidance a new consumer brochure with CFL recycling and cleanup tips. EPA encourages Americans to use CFLs for residential lighting to save energy and prevent greenhouse gas emissions that lead to global climate change.

CFLs contain a small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing. When a CFL breaks, some of the mercury is released as vapor and may pose potential health risks. The guidance and brochure provide simple directions to help prevent and reduce exposure to people from mercury pollution.
In addition, the agency released guidance recommending that schools take steps to reduce potential exposures to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from older fluorescent lighting fixtures. The guidance is based on evidence that the older ballasts contain PCBs that can leak when the ballasts fail, leading to elevated levels of PCBs in the air of schools that should not represent an immediate threat but could pose health concerns if they persist over time.
PCBs are man-made chemicals that persist in the environment and were widely used in construction materials and electrical products prior to 1978. PCBs can affect the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system and endocrine system and are potentially cancer causing if they build up in the body over long periods of time.
“As we continue to learn more about the potential risks of PCBs in older buildings, EPA will work closely with schools and local officials to ensure the safety of students and teachers,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Steve Owens.
In September 2009, EPA issued guidance to communities about potential PCB contamination in the caulk of pre-1978 buildings. The agency also announced additional research into the potential for PCBs in caulk to get into the air. Research on that and other issues related to PCB exposures is ongoing.
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