|Tritium Exit Signs|
Tritium Exit Signs Present a Challenge in Handling and Disposal
Exit signs pointing the way out of buildings and airplanes probably have saved many lives during emergencies since being required by state laws in the 1930s. However, exit signs require proper handling and disposal to protect public health and the environment, especially those containing the radioactive material tritium.
While the benefit of tritium exit signs is that they glow even when they have no electrical power or batteries, they also must be isolated from other wastes during disposal, since they may and often do contaminate scrap metal from demolition sites. For this reason, tritium exits signs are regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and proper disposal of the signs is required once they are no longer used.
While many large commercial and government entities are aware of the requirements for use and disposal, many small businesses are unaware of the NRC requirements, leading to the improper disposal of tritium exit signs in industrial or municipal landfills, or worse, their being sold over the Internet.
An estimated 2 million tritium exit signs have been sold in the U.S. The number of signs in use now and where they are located is unknown, given that there is limited tracking of the purchase, use, or disposal of the signs and that tritium exit signs have a usable life ranging from ten to twenty years.
Tritium Could Cause Both Health Risks and Economic Costs and Liabilities
Should a tritium exit sign - which contains tritium-filled glass tubes - break, its contents could pose a risk to those located in the near vicinity. They could be exposed to tritium gas or tritiated water from the tritium that has escaped into the environment.
Cleaning up tritium after an accident could be costly, especially for small businesses. Worker or public exposure to tritium also could present unwanted and unnecessary liabilities. In addition, tritium may leak from landfills where sign have been illegally disposed, and could compromise the safety of drinking water sources.
EPA Responds to Concerns about Mismanagement of Tritium Exit Signs
EPA has developed an on-line training course providing detailed instructions on best practices for the handling and disposal of tritium exit signs in response to the lack of awareness on the part of facility owners, management, and maintenance personnel. The course contains easy-to-follow, step-by-step guidelines on using and disposing of tritium exit signs, as well as the rationale for why proper use and disposal is so important. To access the training, go to www.trainex.org/web_courses/tritium/index.htm
EPA is currently conducting outreach among targeted audiences to increase awareness about the problems associated with tritium exit signs and the advantages of proper training on the proper use and disposal of tritium exit signs. EPA is encouraging, where appropriate, the use of alternative technologies. The targeted audience for the training includes state and local officials; school facility managers; operators of public places including hotels, malls, dorms, and theaters; and green building designers.