The government is urging consumers to exercise care when handling broken low energy light bulbs, which contain mercury.
Junior environment minister Joan Ruddock acknowledged a broken bulb was ‘dangerous’ and said people should not touch or attempt to sweep them up immediately.
She also disclosed at Commons question time that ministers were looking at the effect of low energy bulbs on people with certain skin conditions.
Her comments came after reports that energy-saving bulbs can exacerbate skin problems and even trigger migraines.
The government wants to phase out traditional, incandescent bulbs by 2011 as part of its plans to save energy and combat climate chance.
Raising the issue, Tory Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) said: ‘If one accidentally breaks a low energy light bulb the dust contained in it is that of mercury and inhalation can be very dangerous.’
He asked whether the government would insist on better packaging to ensure that bulbs weren’t broken and issue clear guidance on what to do if they were.
Ms Ruddock said low energy bulbs contained about five milligrams of mercury, compared with 100 milligrams when they were first brought out.
‘If a bulb should be broken – and the chances of breaking one are extremely low, lower than the ordinary, old fashioned incandescent bulbs – the amount of mercury in a new bulb would perhaps cover the tip of a ballpoint pen.
‘It is dangerous and care needs to be taken. The simple thing to do is what any sensible person would do with a dangerous chemical and that is: open the window, leave the room for 10 to 15 minutes and then sweep up the broken bulb and seal it in a bag.
‘People shouldn’t be nervous. There is no escape of mercury when the bulb is in use.’
Labour’s Betty Williams (Conwy) raised a constituency case where a young girl, who has eczema, suffered ‘great discomfort’ when near some low energy bulbs.
‘Can you throw any light on this problem for my constituents?’ she asked.
Ms Ruddock said: ‘It must be a very serious problem for a child with eczema.’
Department of Health
She said there had been ‘anecdotal evidence’ that some people with certain skin conditions ‘may be’ affected.
‘We’re looking at that very seriously, working with the Department of Health.
‘There is a difference between the domestic lighting and some other forms of fluorescent lighting used in shops and offices.
‘The domestic lighting has so much improved that we anticipate that this problem will be able to be overcome.’
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