AW: [ RadSafe ] Tritium in landfills

Franz Schönhofer franz.schoenhofer at
Mon Apr 10 12:57:48 CDT 2006

Norm, good old friend and foe, and RADSAFErs,

I followed this thread and did not join it, because it seems that any
comment on certain topics are totally in vain, because certain persons have
made up their mind ("Don't disturb me with facts, I have made up my mind"),
Sorry Norman, I include you. But now I think I should comment, though my
comment will be most probably delayed for a long time from forwarding. 

The fact that tritium, and in earlier times Ra-226, Sr-90  and even other
radionuclides have been used for decades in luminous dials, exit signs,
aircraft instrumentation etc.  should be nothing new for knowledgeable
persons. So, what is so surprising?

I have investigated the transfer of tritium from luminous dials of wrist
watches to the body of persons wearings them. I personally had a body burden
of approximately 3000 Bq/l of urine after a few days wearing a plastic watch
with tritium luminous dials, serving as a guinea pig. The MPC of tritium
according to the European Drinking Water Directive is 100 Bq/l, so my urine
was exceeding the MPC for drinking water by a factor of 30!!!!! I wonder who
would drink it....

We found in Austria T-concentrations up to several thousands of Bq/l in the
waste water of landfills. We do not attribute them to exit signs, but to the
discarding of plastic watches, which are obviously designed to be changed
every few months to a new model by our young people. The foremost company in
manufacturing these watches has since much more than ten years, when we
published our results, switched to non-tritium-dials.

Tritiated Exit-Signs seem not to have been used for a long time in Europe,
or at least not in my country. There are strict legal restrictions in Europe
as to "consumer products".

I can only wonder about the many comments on this topic at RADSAFE. Only a
few persons have correctly stated, that the tritium in those EXITS-signs is
tritium gas and will dissipate into the air as soon, as the signs will be
broken - and how should they survive the transport to a landfill without
breaking? The oxidation rate in air is extremely low and it would anyway
produce HTO only during the shipping. The few percents (if any) arriving at
the landfill might be more easily converted to HTO because of a more
pronounced contact with other waste and especially water and acidic

Finally I would like to remind those of you old enough and those of you
young enough to read old reports, that the tritium concentration of
precipitation was in the late 50's and the 60's of last century higher by
many orders of magnitude in Europe and the USA than it is now. The
precipitation would never have qualified for todays standards of drinking
water, but had to be used in large areas for drinking water supply. 

This message was sent on Monday, April 10,2005, 19:55 Central European
Summer Time. 

Best regards,


Franz Schoenhofer
PhD, MR iR
Habicherg. 31/7
A-1160 Vienna
phone -43-0699-1168-1319

> -----Ursprüngliche Nachricht-----
> Von: radsafe-bounces at [mailto:radsafe-bounces at] Im
> Auftrag von Norm Cohen
> Gesendet: Montag, 10. April 2006 00:39
> An: radsafe at; Know_Nukes at
> Betreff: [ RadSafe ] FW: Sunday "Patriot" Exit signs in landfills
> couldtaint water
> Exit signs in landfills could taint water
> Sunday, April 09, 2006
> Of The Patriot-News
> Those red and green exit signs glowing from the dark corners of movie
> theaters, schools and other publicbuildings are there to guide us to
> safety
> if the lights go out.
> But those same signs are illegally showing up in state landfills where
> their
> radioactive contents could emerge as a threat to drinking water supplies.
> It's a minor problem now, but state environmental officials worry it could
> get worse.
> The problem is the radioactive isotope that lights up the sign -- tritium.
> When crushed or broken, the radiation is released and bonds with water.
> "Is it a big deal?" asked Mike Pavelek, executive director of the Greater
> Lebanon Refuse Authority. "If you have one or two of them, no. But if you
> have a whole bunch of them, yeah."
> Pennsylvania has about 60,000 tritium exit signs in use, according to
> federal records. Each contains enough radioactivity to contaminate a
> landfill, state officials said.
> Under federal law, unwanted signs are supposed to be returned to the
> manufacturer, or one of two special landfills for low-level radioactive
> waste. But a recent study by the state Department of Environmental
> Protection found that is not happening.
> Leachate tests at 54 of the state's 108 landfills revealed that 97 percent
> contained tritium, more than half at levels above the U.S. Environmental
> Protection Agency standard for drinking water. Leachate is water that
> filters through the trash. Leachate is collected and treated before it is
> released into waterways.
> Though the health risk is minimal -- tritium levels fall to a fraction of
> the permitted amount once diluted with river or creek water -- DEP is
> asking
> the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to tighten controls on the signs.
> The
> NRC is responsible for tracking all nuclear materials.
> DEP asked for better labeling on the devices and for users to conduct
> annual
> inventories and report the results to the agency. But the NRC said current
> regulations were adequate to protect the public.
> DEP will continue to push the agency to do more anyway, said Ronald Ruman,
> a
> spokesman for DEP.
> Each sign contains 20 trillion picocuries of tritium. The EPA limit for
> drinking water is 20,000 picocuries per liter of water. At that volume,
> one
> improperly disposed sign could "easily cause the tritium ...
> concentrations
> we're observing," concluded a DEP report released in October.
> Though the agency is not ordering a cleanup of the landfills -- radiation
> levels are too low to justify it -- improper handling of the signs can be
> costly. In October 1997, New Jersey taxpayers paid $200,000 to clean up a
> hospital where a psychiatric patient broke three signs, according to a
> report by the federal General Accounting Office.
> State officials believe contractors, property owners and demolition
> companies are unaware of the restrictions on how the signs are to be
> retired.
> Most of the signs bear only a small sticker indicating their radioactive
> components, Ruman said.
> "I believe that," said David Lochbaum, a nuclear safety expert with the
> Union of Concerned Scientists, which supports the state's call for action
> by
> the NRC. Companies that sell the signs online make little or no mention of
> the radioactivity or the disposal requirements, he said.
> Pennsylvania landfills are equipped to detect radiation in trash, but the
> low beta particles emitted by tritium are invisible to those devices,
> Ruman
> said.
> "We measure for radiation but we don't see beta. The steel from the trucks
> will absorb all that," said the GLRA's Pavelek.
> GARRY LENTON: 255-8264 or glenton at
> ©2006 The Patriot-News
> © 2006 All Rights Reserved.
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