Identify Radioactive Exit Signs

Published May 2016 by Jake Andrist

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Radioactive waste disposal is somewhat uncommon, but responsible disposal is a necessity when the time comes. We recently discussed the disposal of Tritium Exit signs, but what are they and how can we identify them? 

WHAT IS TRITIUM?

It’s a radioactive gas used in some self-luminous signage. Commonly found in exit signs. It was also a byproduct of nuclear reactions, released into the environment as a result of nuclear tests peaking in the 1960’s.

Where are these exit signs found? Estimated 2 million sold in the United States in the last two decades. These signs are found in institutions, hospitals, schools, even airplanes.

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HOW DO I IDENTIFY RADIOACTIVE EXIT SIGNS?

One way to immediately identify a potentially radioactive sign is to note whether or not it is wired for electricity, if it is not, but still glows, it could be Tritium. These products are not all labeled in a standard manner. Look for the “Radioactive” symbol, which may be presented in any color or size. You might see with any combination of these words and abbreviations, then look at the reference image below with the keywords highlighted:

  • Radioactive
  • Tritium
  • Curie
  • Becquerel
  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission
  • H3 or H-3
  • Ci
  • GBq
  • TBq
  • NRC
  • USNRC

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Additionally, there are regulatory requirements to follow when these signs are in use. We recommend becoming familiar with the NRC site resources. From NRC: 

Under NRC regulations, a general licensee using a tritium EXIT sign must:

  • NOT remove the labeling or radioactive symbol or abandon the sign;
  • properly dispose of an unwanted sign (see below);
  • report to the NRC or appropriate Agreement State any lost, stolen or broken sign;
  • inform the NRC or Agreement State of changes to the name or address of the general licensee or the person in charge of complying with the regulations;
  • NOT give away or sell the sign unless it is to remain in use at its original location; in such a case, the general licensee making the transfer must give the new owner a copy of the regulations and report the transfer to the NRC or Agreement State within 30 days.

TRC’s Haz Team is available if you have questions – Contact us here! If you’re ready to safely recycle these exit signs now, RecyclePak is a great solution.