Environmental Protection

NSWMA: Tritium-containing Exit Signs Don't Belong in Landfills

The National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA) has filed comments with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in response to a petition for rulemaking from the Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials (ASTSWMO) regarding possible new rules for the disposal of tritium exit signs.

Tritium exit signs, used in many commercial and high-occupancy residential buildings, contain a radioactive form of hydrogen and allow for continuous, self-powered light source in situations where using batteries or electricity is not possible.

NSWMA’s comments assert that NRC should exercise its full regulatory authority to prevent the disposal of tritium signs in municipal solid waste landfills because these signs directly impact landfill leachate when the tritium is released. While tritium leaves the body relatively quickly and must be ingested in large amounts to pose a significant health risk, exposure to tritium does increase the risk of developing cancer. A damaged exit sign likely will have relatively high levels of tritium in it, and should not be handled or disposed in a municipal solid waste landfill.

Bruce J. Parker, NSWMA’s president and chief executive officer, said the solid waste industry has a vested interest in developing sensible rules for the disposal of hazardous substances such as tritium. “America’s solid waste industry provides an essential service that helps protect the environment and public health. We support all efforts to keep potentially harmful materials out of landfills,” said Parker. “We are pleased to have the opportunity to express our support for this potential rule change by the Nuclear Regulatory Agency.”

ASTSWMO has requested that NRC revise its regulations for new tritium exit signs to improve recognition and thus accountability for the signs. ASTSWMO recommended that a national collection effort be undertaken to consolidate all expired and disused tritium exit signs. NSWMA supports ASTSWMO’s proposed rules regarding the management of tritium exit signs, Parker added.

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