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Mercury vapor lamps are bright, long-lasting light sources that are often used to light large areas such as streets, gyms, sports arenas, banks, or stores. The bulbs have an inner quartz tube containing the mercury vapor discharge. This is enclosed by an outer glass bulb that filters out harmful short-wavelength ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
There are two types of mercury vapor light bulbs sold in the U.S.
- “T” type light bulbs have a self-extinguishing feature that shuts off the light within 15 minutes after the outer bulb is broken.
- “R” type light bulbs do not have a self-extinguishing feature. They should only be installed in light fixtures that are fully enclosed by a lens of glass or plastic, or used only in areas where people will not be exposed to UV radiation if the outer bulb breaks.
Under normal operating conditions mercury vapor lamps provide efficient, long-lasting sources of light. However, if the outer bulb breaks, and the inner tube continues to produce unshielded light, intense UV radiation is emitted. UV exposure at this level can cause eye and skin burns, blurred or double vision, headaches, and nausea.
It can be difficult to know if you are exposed to harmful levels of UV radiation exposure because the symptoms can take several hours to appear.
Ultraviolet radiation burns from high intensity mercury vapor light bulbs are a public health concern, especially in schools and other indoor facilities where the light bulbs may be subject to damage. The best way to reduce the risk of burns is to use fully-enclosed fixtures or self-extinguishing “T” type mercury vapor light bulbs in facilities where the public can be exposed to the UV radiation from a broken bulb.
For more information, see Ultraviolet Radiation Burns from High Intensity Metal Halide and Mercury Vapor Lighting Remain a Public Health Concern (December 6, 2005)
Manufacturers of electronic radiation emitting products sold in the United States are responsible for compliance with the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA), Chapter V, Subchapter C - Electronic Product Radiation Control.
Manufacturers of mercury vapor lamps are responsible for compliance with all applicable requirements of Title 21 Code of Federal Regulations (Subchapter J, Radiological Health) Parts 1000 through 1005:
In addition, mercury vapor lamps must comply with radiation safety performance standards in Title 21 Code of Federal Regulations (Subchapter J, Radiological Health) Parts 1010 and 1040.30:
Required Reports for the Mercury Vapor Lamps Manufacturers or Industry
Applicability of the Performance Standard for High-Intensity Mercury Vapor Discharge Lamps (21 CFR 1040.30) Mercury Vapor Lamp Products Radiation Safety Report (PDF)(PDF - 886KB) Guide for Preparing Annual Reports on Radiation Safety Testing of Mercury Vapor Lamps (PDF)(PDF - 888KB) FDA eSubmitter
Industry Guidance - Documents of Interest
Quality Control Practices for Compliance with the Federal Mercury Vapor Lamp Performance Standard (PDF Only)(PDF - 1.8MB) CPG Sec. 391.200 Warning Statement in Advertisements for High-Intensity Mercury Vapor Discharge Lamps that are not Self-Extinguishing (21 CFR 1040.30(e)(3)*) Guidance for Industry and FDA Staff - Addition of URLs to Electronic Product Labeling