[ RadSafe ] FW: spam: FW: 'Exit' signs boost landfill radiation levels
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Fri Apr 7 06:49:52 CDT 2006
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From: Eric Epstein [mailto:ericepstein at comcast.net]
Sent: Thursday, April 06, 2006 11:32 PM
To: Norm Cohen
Subject: spam: FW: 'Exit' signs boost landfill radiation levels
'Exit' signs boost landfill radiation levels
Discarded green-glowing signs, containing radioactive tritium, contaminate
landfill water here and across state. Experts say levels don¹t pose health
By Ad Crable
Lancaster New Era
Published: Apr 05, 2006 1:50 PM EST
LANCASTER COUNTY, PA - When state inspectors began finding elevated levels
of radioactive tritium at landfills across Pennsylvania including four in
or near Lancaster County they were puzzled.
After all, new regulations required all landfills to monitor incoming
trucks for any radioactive material.
The origin, they found to their surprise, was exit signs.
At three of the four landfills here, and at more than half the 54 solid
waste landfills in the state, the levels of tritium in water flowing from
the landfills exceeded what is allowed in drinking water.
Above-normal levels of tritium were found at the county¹s Frey Farm Landfill
in Manor Township; the Lanchester Landfill on the Lancaster-Chester border;
the Conestoga Landfill on the Lancaster-Berks border; and the Milton Grove
Demolition and Tire Recycling Center near Mount Joy.
All but the Frey Farm Landfill had tritium in leachate the water that
flows down through waste at levels exceeding drinking water standards.
That water is discharged into such waterways as the Conestoga River,
Susquehanna River and Little Chickies Creek.
State Department of Environmental Protection officials emphasize that the
levels of tritium found do not pose a health threat to residents here or
anywhere else in Pennsylvania because the tritium is vastly diluted before
reaching any drinking-water intakes.
³It truly would be a fraction² of original levels, says DEP spokesman Ron
Three-page letters to head off public alarm were recently sent by the DEP to
local officials whose municipalities host the landfills.
But the DEP wants to keep tritium out of landfills. So they searched for the
source of the radioactive gas, at high levels a cancer-causing agent
normally associated with the production of nuclear energy.
Tritium gas is typically used in the green exit signs placed in many
buildings so that the signs continue to glow in case of a power failure.
Red-lettered exit signs do not contain tritium.
State and federal laws require that unused exit signs be sent back to the
manufacturer, where the tritium is removed and recycled, or taken to one of
the two low-level radioactive waste landfills in the United States.
But the reality is that many, perhaps most, of these exit signs get thrown
out with the trash or taken to landfills when old buildings are demolished,
the DEP says.
When the signs reach landfills and are broken, the gas quickly finds its way
into water that flows through landfills.
Radiation monitoring at the landfills does not detect the incoming signs
because they give off beta radiation, which the detectors don¹t pick up,
Federal drinking-water standards allow up to 20,000 picocuries per liter of
tritium. At the Conestoga Landfill, collected leachate had nine times the
maximum level allowed the highest of any landfill in the state.
At Milton Grove, in Mount Joy Township, one sample found 29,300 picocuries.
At Lanchester, the highest level was 30,900. At Frey Farm, the highest level
found was 6,540. Leachate there is pumped to the nearby Lancaster Area Sewer
Authority treatment plant and discharged into Dry Run, a tributary of the
Susquehanna. Manor Township supervisors recently received a letter from the
DEP about the tritium finding at Frey Farm.
Supervisor John May said he was relieved that drinking water sources do not
seem to be affected. ³There¹s no way to remediate this, apparently,² he
said. ³I guess the idea is to stop the practice of throwing them away
The DEP has appealed to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to do a
better job of labeling and informing the public about the proper disposal of
exit signs containing tritium.
In addition, the DEP is now requiring the 54 landfills to begin testing for
tritium in leachate.
Tritium has had a high profile in the news lately. Unreported tritium leaks
at three nuclear plants in Illinois prompted the state attorney general to
sue Exelon Corp. over groundwater contamination.
Exelon launched a fleet-wide search for tritium leaks, including at its
Three Mile Island and Peach Bottom nuclear plants.
A leak of tritium into groundwater at TMI occurred last summer, but levels
never exceeded drinking-water standards and didn¹t reach the Susquehanna,
Exelon officials said.
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