Outline Circulating messages that contain graphic images of a severe foot injury claim that the injury was caused by mercury exposure after the victim stepped on a broken energy saving globe (CFL).
The claims in the message remain unsubstantiated. CFL's do contain a small amount of mercury and caution is required when cleaning up and disposing of broken bulbs. Exposure to mercury can certainly have serious health implications. However, there is currently no credible evidence that backs up the claim that the foot injury depicted in these photographs was the result of mercury exposure.
On the 10thFebruary 2011 the energy saver globe fused at the home of the IP. He did not wait for the globe to cool down, standing on a chair with a piece of cloth and remove the energy saver globe. Due to the heat of the energy saver globe he dropped the globe. As the globe fell on the floor it “explode” (brake). As he descend from the chair he stepped into the broken glass and exposed mercury powder.
The IP was admitted to hospital for treatment of the cuts. He spent two weeks in ICU and at one stage it was feared that his foot need to be amputated. Currently his foot is connected to a vacuum pump to remove continuously dead tissue. Long road of recovery is awaiting him.
Several warnings about the supposed danger of broken Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFL's) are currently circulating via email and social media websites. The latest crop of the warnings contains a series of very graphic images depicting a severely injured foot. According to these messages, the foot injury was the result of mercury exposure after the foot's hapless owner stepped on a broken CFL.
Before I get into a discussion about said foot injury, I should first point out that CFL's do contain a small amount of mercury and a certain degree of caution and commonsense is required when cleaning up and disposing of a broken bulb. Some of the earlier CFL warnings that have circulated omit the foot injury images but nevertheless make exaggerated and misleading claims about the potential dangers of CFL's.One such message that began circulating in 2010 falsely claimed to be a warning from the 'British Ministry of Health'. And an even earlier "warning" that began circulating in 2007, falsely claimed that a professional environmental clean-up crew is required to attend if a CFL is broken. I discuss the potential dangers of CFL's - or lack thereof - in some depth here.
In a nutshell, health experts do not consider mercury from broken energy saving lightbulbs to be a significant threat to health but do advise that certain commonsense clean-up guidelines should be used as a precaution. The UK's Health Protection Agency (HPA) notes:
"As a precautionary measure, the HPA advise that the room should be ventilated and the bulb cleaned up and disposed of properly."
The clean up should involve:
On hard surfaces wipe the area with a damp cloth, place that in the plastic bag and seal it.
Sticky tape (e.g. duct tape or similar) can be used to pick up small residual pieces or powder from soft furnishings and then placed in a sealed plastic bag.
The plastic bag doesn't need to be air tight, but should be reasonably sturdy. Place it in another, similar bag and seal that one as well (again, this minimises cuts from broken glass).
The public should contact the local authority for advice on where to dispose of broken or intact CFLs as they should be treated as hazardous waste
But what about the foot injury shown in the above images? CFL's do contain a tiny amount of mercury and mercury exposure in sufficient quantities can certainly have serious health effects. But, that said, there is no compelling or credible evidence to back up the claim that the foot injury depicted in the above photographs was caused by mercury exposure from a broken CFL. Or any other source of mercury for that matter. Mercury has long been used in various common instruments and devices and, historically, in mining, medicine and many other applications. Often, the potential for mercury exposure from such devices and applications has been vastly greater than that posed by the tiny amount of mercury found in a typical CFL. The adverse health effects of mercury exposure have been well documented over many years. But, despite this, I could find no information that suggests that mercury in a wound would cause the sort of significant injury and decay shown in the above photographs. Even a detailed clinical review about mercury exposure and cutaneous disease makes no reference to mercury related injuries like those shown in the images.
Certainly, mercury could be more quickly absorbed via an existing wound or cut and if a large amount is absorbed, the victim could suffer immediate symptoms such as loss of appetite, fatigue, insomnia, and changes in behavior or personality. Longer term exposure could result in damage to the brain, kidney and lungs along with nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, eye irritation, weight loss, skin rashes, and muscle tremors.
Mercury content aside, glass from a broken CFL - or an "ordinary" bulb - could indeed result in nasty cuts if a person stepped on it. And, like any wound, there is a possibility that infection could result if the wound was left untreated or was not treated correctly.
But, given that the messages provide no concrete information about where the injury took place or who sustained it, there is no way of checking what actually caused the injury. Some commentators have suggested that the foot condition shown in the images may be the result of necrotizing fascitis or some other form of severe infection. In any case, given the absence of any evidence supporting the claim, it seems doubtful that the injury is really the result of mercury exposure.