There are several kinds of exit signs, but the ones that require hazardous waste disposal are those made with the radioactive gas, tritium. Tritium is the naturally occurring radioactive isotope of hydrogen that, when combined with a light-emitting compound, causes exit signs to glow. Although tritium does emit radiation, it is such a weak emission that it cannot travel far or penetrate human skin. According to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), tritium exit signs “pose little or no threat to public health and safety or security,” but they are solid waste.
Why Use Tritium Exit Signs
Tritium exit signs are used for two main reasons: they do not require batteries and they can be installed in places that are more difficult to install electric exit signs, such as above doors. Because they do not require batteries or electricity, they are particularly useful in emergency situations when power outages occur.
How to Know Your Exit Sign Has Tritium and Is Working Properly
Exit signs made with tritium glow green or red and are not plugged into a source of power. They should also have a warning label that notes the use of tritium, 3H, or H-3; has the radiation warning symbol; and states that radioactive materials are present.
All four letters of your tritium exit sign should be equally illuminated. If some are dimmer than others or if the entire sign emits a weak light, it has likely reached the end of its useful life or is damaged in some capacity.
Disposing of Exit Signs
Facilities that manufacture and distribute tritium exit signs do so under a specific license; “they must apply for and receive a radioactive materials license from the NRC or an Agreement State.” Entities like schools, public facilities, and other businesses that use tritium exit signs are general licensees and do not need a specific license. Because tritium in exit signs does not pose a threat to humans, proper disposal guidelines allow these exit signs can be handled by people without radiation training.
Exit Sign Disposal
Despite their widespread use and general safety, tritium exit signs must still comply with radioactive waste regulations. They cannot be discarded with regular trash, as broken signs could create contamination issues.
General licensees must contact a specific licensee and get them to handle the exit sign’s disposal. The NRC or an Agreement State has the authority to inspect general licensees to ensure that they are complying with regulations.
If your business needs to dispose of tritium exit signs, contact Clean Management. We can remove your old or damaged signs and keep you in compliance with all relevant regulations along the way.