Cloths Absorb Mercury from Broken Fluorescent Bulbs

As more households are turning to fluorescent light bulbs for energy-efficient lighting, some people have been worried about the dangers of the mercury that is released into the air when a bulb breaks.

The 3-5 milligrams of mercury vapor inside the bulbs can pose minor health risks to small children and other susceptible individuals, and the area with the broken bulb needs to be carefully and thoroughly cleaned.

Recently, researchers at Brown University have discovered that a material called nanoselenium absorbs about 99% of mercury vapor. Based on this finding, the team has been creating prototypes of mercury-absorbent cloths and packaging that would make it much easier and safer to clean up broken bulbs.

As Engineering Professor Robert Hurt explains, when the selenium atoms bond with the mercury atoms, they form mercury selenide, which is a stable, benign nanoparticle compound. The mercury selenide could be safely discarded and recycled, without contamination or other environmental consequences.

One of the prototypes the researchers developed is a nanoselenium-coated cloth, encompassed by two exterior layers, that would hold the light bulbs in the box, and fully absorb the mercury if one should break during shipping and handling.

An extra cloth could also be included in the packaging, so that if a bulb should break when being screwed in, for example, people could simply lay the cloth on the spot where the bulb broke. The nanoselenium can absorb mercury on carpets, wood floors, and other surfaces.

Because the material is so effective, only a small amount is needed to capture the mercury vapor, making the researchers hope that the cloths could be relatively inexpensive.

"More work is needed," Hurt said, "but this appears to be an inexpensive solution that can remove most of the safety concerns associated with CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) bulbs."

via: Brown University