Glow in the dark exit signs often contain the radioactive substance Tritium. Tritium exit signs serve an important purpose, marking exit routes clearly during an emergency or power outage. They are generally used in situations where it is not practical to use an electric sign – above doorways for example.
How do I identify a Tritium exit sign?
If your exit sign glows in the dark without power, it will likely be a Tritium exit sign (otherwise known as a GTLS – Gaseous Tritium Light Source, or Betalight). Tritium exit signs should also have a permanent warning label that mentions Tritium, 3H or H-3, with the three-bladed radiation symbol and the words ‘Caution – Radioactive Materials’.
If all components of your Tritium exit sign are lighting up correctly, the sign is working and presents little or no risk to public health. If not – for example, if one of the letters in the word ‘EXIT’ is not displaying lit up as the others are – then your exit sign may have reached the end of its working life or be damaged. Note that all the letters and/or symbols on your exit sign should be illuminated to the same level. If some are dimmer than others – or if the whole sign is only weakly illuminated, the sign is likely to have reached the end of its useful life or be damaged in some way.
What are my responsibilities if I have a Tritium exit sign?
Following changes in regulations in the UK, a permit issued by the environment agencies is required to hold a Tritium exit sign in the UK. A simple permit can cost between £1000 and £2,000, with an annual subsistence fee of ~£500 to keep the permit open. There are also documentation costs – owners must keep records of the location of the Tritium exit signs they own. Because of these regulatory issues and the continuing increase in disposal costs, there are significantly less Tritium exit signs left in the UK.
Where they are held, the following guidance applies:
How should I dispose of my Tritium exit sign?
While they pose little or no risk to public health while intact and in situ, you should NOT dispose of your Tritium exit sign with standard waste.
Tritium exit signs and other Gaseous Tritium Light Sources are classified as radioactive waste and as such, Tritium exit sign disposal should be handled by a licenced radioactive waste organisation. When damaged, Tritium exit signs have the potential to release radiation into the immediate surroundings, contaminating the area and necessitating an expensive clean-up operation.
If you know where the exit sign was purchased from, the easiest option is to arrange return of the sign to the manufacturer or distributor.
If this is no longer possible or if your Tritium exit sign has reached its end of life or is damaged:
First check your local regulations for radioactive/hazardous waste disposal
Contact Eckert & Ziegler Environmental Services (or another specialist radioactive waste disposal company) with details of your recycling request:
- How many signs do you require recycling?
- What are the dimensions of the sign(s)?
- Are the signs damaged in any way?
- What are the activity levels of the signs? [if available]
- Please also send photographs of the signs if possible
Eckert & Ziegler will then provide you with a quotation for the recycling/disposal of your Tritium exit signs.
Once you have confirmed you wish to proceed, we will either arrange for collection or advise you on how and where to ship the signs to.
PLEASE NOTE: Under no circumstance should you send radioactive material to Eckert & Ziegler without prior approval – you will incur the costs of a rejected delivery.
Environmentally Friendly Disposal
When tasked with Tritium exit sign disposal, the first hurdle to overcome is that there are currently no commercially available recycling routes for Tritium in the UK. This means that many waste management companies are only able to offer Tritium disposal, rather than Tritium recycling.
At Eckert & Ziegler Environmental Services, we have access to well-established Tritium recycling facilities via our parent company in Europe, where recovery rates are consistently as high as 80%. This means we can offer recycling routes for a wide range of redundant Tritium sources, including Tritium exit signs.
Stockpiling Tritium Exit Signs?
You are not alone if your organisation has a tendency to stockpile Tritium exit signs and other Gaseous Tritium Light Sources (GTLSs)! But this does leave your organisation exposed to regulatory, safety and financial risks. As we’ve noticed above, damaged exit signs can create contamination issues which are hard to identify and even harder / more expensive to clear up.
Get a quote for safe and environmentally friendly Tritium exit sign disposal today.