The Environmental Protection Agency notes that when a light bulb containing mercury is broken, toxic mercury powder and vapor can spread through the air. Anyone who does not leave the room after the bulb is broken may suffer ill effects from the inhalation of mercury powder or vapor. The EPA suggests removing people and pets from the room and allowing it to air out for 10 minutes.
The EPA reports that people exposed to mercury vapor or powder can suffer from ill health effects, including headache, tremors, insomnia, temporary damage to cognitive function and irritability. According to the EPA, in addition to airing out the room, the heating and air conditioning system should be shut off to prevent the circulation of mercury powder or vapors. Anyone who cleans up a broken mercury light bulb should never use a vacuum cleaner because it can spread the mercury. To properly clean up a broken mercury bulb, protective gloves should be worn. The light-bulb pieces should be picked up with stiff paper and disposed of in a glass or heavy duty plastic container that can be sealed and marked with a notice that it contains mercury. After picking up the large pieces, smaller pieces can be picked up using sticky tape, such as duct tape, before the area is wiped down with a wet paper towel. All items used to clean up mercury must be disposed of in a sealed container.