AW: [ RadSafe ] Am-241 and INCINERATORS

Franz Schönhofer franz.schoenhofer at
Wed Dec 5 09:32:53 CST 2007


"The proper method of disposal of a smoke detector is in the trash bin." I
know it is allowed in the USA, but no way in Europe! An ionization smoke
detector based on Am-241 falls into the category "consumer product" and
disposing with trash would be heavily fined. I am not sure, whether any
Am-241-smoke detectors are normally available for households any more in
Europe. For big houses like agencies, offices of insurance, brokers, banks,
production companies etc. they are still used, but a license is necessary
for it and the company must have a radiation protection officer. In Austria
old ionization detectors are collected at the Research Center Seibersdorf
and then to my knowledge subjected to the standard procedure for low and
intermediate waste, namely put into drums which are then filled with

Am-241 is applied in the chemical form of americium oxide to the surface of
a ceramic matrix. I suppose it is sintered to the matrix. So it is very
unlikely that it would be volatilized in a waste incinerator and therefore
it will not show up in the fly ash.

Radionuclides which show up in fly ash and also in pipes and tubes are
Po-210 and Pb-210, which are volatile. The number of watches with Ra-hands
ending up in an incinerator must be close to zero, because such watches are
not produced any more since decades. Watches using radioactive promethium
are obviously not produced any more and tritium containing luminous dials
are as well hardly used any more and in many countries forbidden since
years. We found in water of landfills clearly elevated concentrations of
tritium and the only explanation we have are cheap, discarded watches with
tritium dials as the source.

The radioactivity of fly ash (and bottom ash) is well investigated,
especially because of the attempts to use it in concrete production and
house bulding. Early investigations decades ago showed the funny fact that
coal fired power plants usually emit more radioactivity than nuclear ones.

Best regards,


Franz Schoenhofer, PhD
MinRat i.R.
Habicherg. 31/7
A-1160 Wien/Vienna

-----Ursprüngliche Nachricht-----
Von: radsafe-bounces at [mailto:radsafe-bounces at] Im Auftrag
von Geo>K0FF
Gesendet: Mittwoch, 05. Dezember 2007 15:32
An: radsafe at
Betreff: [ RadSafe ] Am-241 and INCINERATORS


The proper method of disposal of a Smoke Detector is in the trash bin.
Presumably the waste is buried in a 
landfill, and the Am-241 contained therein decays naturally according to its
half life of  432 years over geologic time frames. 

Some cities choose incineration for waste control, especially in Europe. The
energy released is often used to generate electricity.

Does anyone have specific information concerning the destruction of Smoke
Detectors / Am-241 in incinerators, particularly 
the path the material takes, and the ultimate disposition of the Am-241? My
particular interest is: does the material go into 
the fly ash, or into the bottom ash? Since other heavy metals go into the
fly ash, one would assume that the Am-241 does as well.
Today, much of the fly ash is recovered and is subsequently used in various
construction and industrial projects as an engineering material. 
In some countries it is simply dumped into landfills.

The same question pertains to Radium Watch Hands, etc. but in modern times,
I'm thinking the bulk of solid radioactive consumer waste 
would be from Smoke Detectors. 

Does anyone have personal knowledge of smoke stack radiation detection being
carried out today? 

Small sources such as these don't amount to much unless the huge numbers of
them being discarded each year are taken into account. 
We who use Lead (Pb) for shielding know how important it is to use ancient
or at least PRE WW2 lead in shielding because of the 
contamination contained within modern lead. 

We are aware that coal-fired power plants also emit radiation (NORM) from
the naturally occurring Radium et al. contained in the coal.

It might be interesting to analyze large concentrations of fly ash for their
various radioactive constituents.

George Dowell
New London Nucleonics Lab
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