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How to Detect, Remove, and Replace Radioactive Exit Signs

Any building, in any industry, in any area of the world, is susceptible to having potentially hazardous and radioactive exit signs installed throughout their building. This could mean they are in schools, near your office, or anywhere else where a radioactive setting probably isn't a desired situation to be in.  

This is why we thought it was necessary to create this post to help and guide you towards identifying, removing, and finally replacing your radioactive exit signs with new signs that are much safer and even efficient, saving you money over other alternatives. Firstly before we can remove and replace these seemingly nuclear exit signs, you have to be able to identify if you have them or not. But before that, lets explain what exactly makes these exit signs radioactive.

How are some exit signs radioactive?

Just the same way as some exit signs are safe, it is all in the way they are built. For some reason, whether it be technology of the time or something else, people assumed it was a good idea to create exit signs with Tritium, also known as 3H or H-3. Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, causing exit signs made with this to be radioactive by default. The only seemingly positive upside to these exit signs is that they are non-electrical, meaning they won't rack up anything in electricity bills.   But before you become alarmed with what we have shared with you so far, tritium emits only a low-energy beta radiation, which in turn causes the sealed glass tube it is in to glow (causing the exit sign to give off the illumination it requires).

Thankfully, it is rather well known that this type of radiation can hardly (if at all) penetrate a piece of paper or clothing. So while yes it is a very low level (energy wise) type of radiation, the fact that there are alternatives that will remove radiation entirely from your building is all the reason to uninstall your tritium exit signs and replace them with something more safe, like LED exit signs. For more info on these radioactive / nuclear exit signs, read more on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (or NRC) website for a better backgrounder.

Now that you understand the technology and how tritium in exit signs work a little bit more, let's go over how exactly you can identify whether or not you have these types of exit signs in your building.  

Identifying a Radioactive Exit Sign

Identifying a radioactive exit sign should be fairly easy. All of these signs are required to have some sort of "Caution of Radioactive Material" warning on the fixture. If you do find such a warning label, it is safe to say your light is made of tritium. Another tell-tale sign is whether or not your signs are connected to an electrical source or not as tritium signs do not require any such connection.   Once you've identified if you have a tritium exit sign or not, if you do happen to have one, you may continue on to removing and replacing it with the alternative exit sign, LED.  

Removing and Replacing your Exit Signs

As with any lighting fixture, we recommend to bring in a professional contractor to do the job to remain compliant. But as a general guideline, you can typically recycle your tritium signs by returning them to the manufacturer or place of purchase. If you purchased the building with them pre-installed and are unsure of where they came from after inspection of the signs for any brand markings, you can try two things:

1: Try contacting the previous building owner or collect records of where they were manufactured

2: Recycle them with a third party. Find companies via online searches for information on recycling them and how to recycle tritium exit signs properly.  

Once you have successfully and safely removed and recycled your radioactive exit signs, you will need to install replacements. We recommend LED as the best alternative. Now, they will require energy to power them, but since LED is the most efficient lighting technology on the market, they will consume such little amounts of energy considering exit signs don't consume a lot of energy to begin with (even if they are on 24/7). This can be done by finding some exit sign replacements, buying them, then installing them yourself or with a professional (we recommend a professional).  

Tips to remember when dealing with Tritium Exit Signs

Here are a few things you should remember and keep in mind when dealing with a building that has radioactive exit signs:
  • They do bring potential health concerns along with them, be aware of them
  • The building owner is always responsible to the safety, maintenance, and disposal of these signs
  • Never try to tamper with these fixtures, ever
  • Learn to recognize a damaged sign - if certain parts aren't illuminated this is one tell tale sign
  • Always report and take immediate action on damaged tritium exit signs
  • Dispose and replace them properly with care by recycling - proper disposal is critical
Some extra resources Before you go, here are some extra resource you should refer to when dealing with tritium signs:

LED Exit Signs (a replacement for your tritium signs)
Tritium in Exit Signs article by
Backgrounder on Tritium EXIT Signs by
Fact Sheet on Tritium Exit Sign

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