Lessons Learned Dealing Self Luminous Exit Signs

100% Safe Tritium Exit Signs

If you are considering self luminous exit signs in your facility, rest assured they pose no threat to you or your building's occupants. Yes they are radioactive, but a number of tests and safeguards are in place to protect you..

Self powered exit signs have been around for more than 50 years. They are powered by a naturally glowing gas called tritium which requires no wiring, battery or electricity of any kind. In the beginning, nobody realized tritium posed any danger to humans.


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However, over time we have learned a few things about the long-term effects of tritium and how to properly mitigate and dispose of this radioactive substance. 

Tritium Dangers

Back in the 1950's soldiers would walk right into the epicenter of a detonated nuclear bomb while school children would play with mercury thermometers. Little was known about the long-term effects of these radioactive elements.

Back then, self-luminous signs were also a target for grade-school kids. They would break open signs to see the bright green tritium, which looked like something out of Buck Rogers in the 23rd Century.

Tritium emits a low-level beta radiation that is not strong enough to penetrate human skin. However, it can be absorbed when the gas is ingested, as in food or water. If tritium tubes break, there is a danger of particulate mixing with moisture in the air, which can be inhaled by humans if not properly ventilated. 

Improved Safeguards of Self Luminous Exit Signs

To give an idea how dangerous an unbroken SL sign is to humans, they are actually less dangerous than home smoke detectors, which also use radioactive substances to detect fires.

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To further protect the glass tritium tubes inside, modern sign fixtures are given steel or aluminum housings. A high-impact polycarbonate shield covers the exit face. These simple low-profile fixtures can even withstand a direct collision with a forklift and continue to work. 

Tritium Disposal

Another unseen effect of self-powered exit signs is their impact on groundwater when disposed in un-lined landfills. Today it is mandatory to notify the NRC and a have a licensed nuclear waste disposal broker handle the sign.

Luckily SLES can help you with all this! Call us at 800-379-1129 or email our staff!

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