Radioactive materials are used in many medical, industrial, commercial, and consumer devices, including x-ray machines, nuclear gauges, older exit signs, and smoke detectors. These devices are safe while in use because the radioactive material is encased. But when damaged or disposed, the radioactive material can be released. Unfortunately, there are few options for proper disposal of radioactive devices.
The best way to ensure safe disposal of radioactive consumer devices like smoke detectors is to establish “extended producer responsibility” (EPR) laws, which require the products’ producers to finance and manage collection and safe disposal of their devices. EPR programs make it easy for consumers to dispose of hazardous products at convenient drop-off locations. No EPR laws yet exist in the U.S. for radioactive devices.
For used medical, industrial, and commercial radioactive devices, PSI recommends that buyers add a clause to their purchase agreements requiring the producer or vendor to take back the product for safe disposal at the end of its useful life. Companies that use these devices are in the best position to demand such services from their suppliers. Likewise, vendors should incorporate take-back services into their business model.
Using alternatives to radioactive materials is the best way to eliminate unnecessary risk of radiation exposure and contamination. Exit signs in commercial buildings, for example, are now illuminated electrically instead of with radioactive material.
How We’re Leading the Way
PSI advocates for EPR programs for smoke detectors by educating policy makers about the problems around disposal of radioactive consumer devices and the opportunities for safe disposal that EPR offers. We provide written and oral testimony in support of EPR bills. Connecticut State Rep. Kathy Kennedy is exploring smoke detector EPR this year.
We facilitate national dialogues among users, producers, and those involved in the disposal and destruction of radioactive devices to jointly develop and implement safe disposal solutions. As a result of our dialogues held in collaboration with U.S. EPA, manufacturers of tritium exit signs established voluntary take-back programs for self-luminous exit signs even as they shifted away from producing these devices. The dialogues also led to pilot implementation of alternatives to radioactive gauges that demonstrated and verified their viability, establishing a foundation for wider adoption.
How You Can Help
Choose a vendor that provides safe take-back and destruction of the radioactive devices you purchase, or require your vendor to provide this service via your contract.
Ask your local waste department about ways to safely dispose of smoke detectors in your area.
Properly dispose of any tritium or self-luminous exit signs, radioactive gauges, and x-ray machines when they need to be replaced -- especially before renovating or demolishing your building. SRB Technologies has a prominent disposal program for tritium signs. Isolite and Self-Powered Lighting also provide these services. Alternatively, ask your vendor or the manufacturer for safe disposal options.
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