BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. - Using compact fluorescent light bulbs is an easy and effective way to save on utility costs. "Using these bulbs can be very helpful to the family budget, but their use is not without risks," said Marsha Alexander, University of Missouri Extension housing and environmental design specialist.

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) contain a small amount of mercury. The amount of mercury found in a typical CFL would cover the tip of a ballpoint pen-less than 5 milligrams. (A typical mercury thermometer, by comparison, might contain several hundred milligrams.)

While a broken CFL will release only a small amount of mercury, consumers should follow some basic steps to ensure a safe cleanup, Alexander said.

If a CFL breaks, people and pets should leave the room immediately. Avoid walking through the breakage area on the way out. Open a window for ventilation and stay out of the affected area for at least 15 minutes. Turn off the central forced-heating and air-conditioning system.

If the break happens over a hard surface such as wood or tile, carefully scoop up the glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a sealable plastic bag. Use duct tape or a similar adhesive tape to pick up the remaining glass and powder. Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels and dispose of the towels in a sealed bag. Wash your hands immediately.

If the bulb breaks on carpeting, wear gloves and carefully pick up the glass fragments. Use sticky tape to remove remaining glass and powder. If small pieces remain, vacuum the affected area. Carefully remove the vacuum bag, wipe down the canister and dispose of the vacuum debris in a sealed plastic bag. Wash your hands immediately.

Check with your local city government about disposal requirements, Alexander said. Some recommend taking both broken and used mercury-containing bulbs to household hazardous waste centers.

Despite the presence of mercury, CFLs can actually reduce the amount of mercury released into the environment. Intact CFLs release no mercury, and the energy saved from using CFLs translates into less mercury emitted by coal-powered plants.