Encountering a Self Luminous Exit Sign

To Be or Not To Be Self Luminous

To the untrained eye, every exit sign looks exactly the same. However if you look closely at these signs you will quickly be able to determine if it is electrical or non-electrical. If the lettering is illuminated by bright dots (LEDs) and has metal conduits leading into the unit, it's electrical.


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However if the sign either glows in the dark or is a self powered exit sign that glows using tritium gas, there will be no electrical wiring present, and these signs might not appear to be on when the general lighting is bright.

Self luminous exit signs are part of the latter, self-powered non-electrical category. They are lit by phosphor-lined glass tubes that contain tritium, a radioactive compound with a very low radiation signature. Phosphor glows bright green when in contact with radioactive material, producing the SL sign's continuous glow.

If You Encounter a Self Luminous Exit Sign

Don't worry about the tritium - it produces less background REMs than your standard home smoke detector! However, if the tritium tubes were to break, they pose a nominal hazard to personnel and should be approached with caution.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is the national organization that sets regulations for nuclear waste disposal and mitigation.

Some of the NRC's regulations include:

  • Never tamper with a tritium powered exit sign, which could result in the spread of radioactive contamination. 
    • Tritium gas is odorless and can only be detected with special equipment.
  • Do not remove warning label.
  • Do not abandon or dispose of self luminous fixtures unless through an NRC-licensed disposal service.
  • Never throw an SL sign in the garbage.

Contacting A Disposal Agency

Observe the manufacturer's label located on the face, side or back of the unit, or on the original packaging. It will list the company's contact information, who you should call if you find a damaged, spent or abandoned self powered exit sign.

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If there is no contact info on the label, give the exit sign professionals at SLES a call now at 800-379-1129 or shoot us an email. It doesn't matter if the sign was purchased through us; we will make sure it is properly taken care of at the lowest cost to you.

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