El mercurio en las bombillas de bajo consumo
2. How could mercury released from a broken CFL affect health?
- 2.1 How can inhaling or swallowing mercury affect health?
- 2.2 Does the amount of mercury released by a broken CFL affect health?
2.1 How can inhaling or swallowing mercury affect health?
If mercury is swallowed
less than a thousandth is absorbed by the body and most of it is eliminated,
mainly through the urine and faeces. Still, swallowing a high concentration of
mercury on the short term can lead to severe harmful and even life-threatening
When inhaled, most of the
mercury vapours are absorbed by the
lungs. The parts of the body most affected by mercury
inhalation are the kidneys and the
central nervous system.
People who have accidentally
inhaled relatively large quantities of vapours
– for instance at certain workplaces – often show
inflammation of the lungs, kidney damage,
gastroenteritis, restlessness and shaking.
Workers who are exposed regularly to
mercury vapours (at levels exceeding German
maximum limits for short term exposure at the work place) run an increased risk to
develop problems with their central nervous
system. Long-term exposure to levels of mercury which are about one quarter
of the limit allowed in the workplace, can still harm the kidneys and cause subtle
effects on the central nervous system such as
memory loss, sleeping problems, anger, fatigue and trembling of the hands.
Young children and the developing are growing and developing
quickly so they are particularly vulnerable to
mercury. Children exposed to mercury
vapours can develop breathing difficulties, swelling and redness of the hands and
feet, and pealing pink skin at the tips of fingers and toes.
2.2 Does the amount of mercury released by a broken CFL affect health?
When the tube of a fluorescent light bulb breaks, the
mercury vapour inside is released into the
air. In an average room, the amount of vapour could briefly be well above the
limits allowed in the general environment, and could exceed the levels allowed in
the workplace. However, these limits are designed to protect adults who are
exposed to such levels regularly during a 40-year work life, so they are not
applicable for a very short-term exposure. Most of the mercury released from the
CFL turns liquid very quickly so, shortly after the breakage, the level of mercury
vapour becomes too low to cause any harm to adults, even those who are
Children breathe in more air in proportion to their size than adults and tend
to be more active, so children could be exposed to comparatively higher levels of
mercury than adults.
The amount of mercury in the air is not
the only important consideration. The spilt mercury that has turned to liquid can
stick to surfaces and dust, particularly if the room is not aired sufficiently or
cleaned up thoroughly. This is particularly relevant for young children because
they bring their fingers and objects to their mouth and may thus swallow
At present there are no estimates on the amount of
mercury that children are likely to swallow
after a lamp has broken and the SCHER
recommends that this research be carried out and that customers be given
instructions on how to deal with a CFL breakage.
The amount of mercury in the air after a
compact fluorescent lamp breaks is relatively high initially but is not enough to
cause harm. The released mercury vapour turns quickly into a liquid and the level
of mercury in the air decreases very rapidly so it is unlikely that broken CFLs
pose any risk to the health of adults.
In principle, a foetus can be exposed to
mercury through its mother but the amount
of mercury that can cross over from the mother’s blood is very limited so the risk
of broken CFLs to the foetus is negligible.
At present, there is no data on how much
mercury children could take in through
swallowing mercury-containing dust or licking
contaminated surfaces so it is impossible
to determine the risk that broken CFLs pose to children.