Radioactive Sources at Demolition Sites
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Demolition sites are a major supplier of the world’s scrap metal supply. When demolition contractors are scheduled to take down a building, they may not be notified about the presence of radioactive materials at the site. A gauge or device containing radioactive material may inadvertently be put into the outgoing scrap metal shipments.
On this page:
- Why are there radioactive sources in industrial buildings?
- Why are nuclear gauges and devices a problem for demolition contractors?
- What is being done about this problem?
- Overview of “Identifying Radioactive Sources at the Demolition Site"
Why are there radioactive sources in industrial buildings?
Industry uses gauges and devices containing radioactive sources to measure various properties of products during manufacture:
- thickness of metal and paper
- volume of fluids
- fluid flow rates in pipes
- fill level in cans and bottles
- density of various materials including tobacco products
These devices are routinely used by the automotive, paper manufacturing, sewage treatment, cigarette manufacturing and metal fabrication industries.
Why are nuclear gauges and devices a problem for demolition contractors?
Gauges and devices containing radioactive sources are licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and must be disposed of properly. When facilities change hands or are slated for demolition, new owners or demolition contractors must be notified about the presence of these devices. However, this information is often not transferred because these devices are easily forgotten:
- Gauges and devices using radioactive sources can perform for long periods with very little or no maintenance.
- They are often painted over during renovations, obscuring any radiation warnings or symbols.
- When taken off-line, they are put into storage and forgotten.
- Radioactive markings become obscured and the institutional knowledge of these devices is gradually lost.
As a result, it falls to the demolition contractor to identify these devices at the demolition site.
What is being done about this problem?
EPA and the National Demolition Association have formed a partnership to develop training for demolition managers and workers. Increasing on-site awareness and recognition of radioactive sources will help in securing and safe handling of them and reduce the number that show up at scrap yards and metal melting facilities. By managing these materials correctly, hazards to the demolition workers, the public, and the environment can be reduced and the integrity of the demolition and metal recycling industry can be maintained. Homeland security can also be enhanced by regaining control of unsecured radioactive materials that could be used in the manufacture of a “dirty bomb”. The demolition contractors are the last line of defense before these materials leave the demolition site and enter the U.S. scrap metal supply.
Overview of “Identifying Radioactive Sources at the Demolition Site"
The training program simulates opportunities for identifying radioactive sources, outlines best practices, and allows the student to test their understanding of the material. It has five modules:
Describes the purpose of the program, the presentation goals, the use of best practices and program navigation.
You Need To Know
Describes physical characteristics of tritium exit signs and the gauges and devices that contain radioactive sources then identifies industries where these devices are commonly used, discusses exposure pathways and risks, and explains why it is so important to “do the right thing”.
Presents a typical demolition timeline and identifies ways to locate radioactive gauges and devices during each phase. Each of these phases, from initial client contact thru job closeout, presents opportunities to find and properly handle these materials. The goal is to identify these gauges and devices as early as possible in the demolition process to prevent exposure of workers and contamination of the scrap metal supply.
Test Your Knowledge
Questions and answers to review course information and test the understanding of the student.
Presents information for use in handling and disposing of radioactive materials, including state radiation program contact information, information on available transportation and disposal options for radioactive material, tritium exit sign manufacturer buy-back programs, and Material Safety Data Sheets for the more common radionuclides.
Throughout the You Need to Know and Opportunities modules, various gauge and device manufacturers, state and federal officials, and a representative of the demolition industry share their insight and perspective on managing radioactive sources and present ways to properly dispose of them. Case studies of improperly handled sources, including consequences, are also presented. This material is complimented by video footage of a radioactive material “discovery."
Who should take this training?
The program is designed for two audiences:
Demolition managers, site supervisors, health and safety officers, and estimators
The main program is designed for this group. It alerts the job estimator to the potential for these devices to be present and to identify them during the walk-through. (The NDA has added “radioactive materials” to the environmental issues section of their Engineering Survey form, which includes other site hazards such as asbestos, lead-based paint, and hazardous chemicals.3)
The Worker Toolbox Module is designed for this group, who may come across suspicious material during the course of demolition, perhaps a gauge or device that escaped detection during the walk-through. The module describes the characteristics of radioactive material that should alert the worker to a potentially dangerous situation. The worker is instructed to notify his supervisor, who will take the appropriate action to secure the material.
The main program can be completed in about three hours in a single or multiple sessions. The Worker Toolbox can be incorporated into the job-site training programs and will take one hour to complete. Both programs are available in English and Spanish, to facilitate the transfer of knowledge. The program also complies with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and can accommodate hearing and vision-impaired persons.
Download takes approximately 15 minutes. After downloading and unzipping, click on epa.exe to run the training.
Large documents are often "zipped" or compressed to reduce the time required to download them. Although zip files can be downloaded with no additional software, you must have the appropriate software to decompress the files and make them useable with their native software. If you do not have zip software, you can learn about compression software and download a free trial version of WINZIP.
If you have any questions, please contact us at 202.343-9367.
- Ray Turner, River Metals Recycling, Ft. Mitchell, KY, 11/15/04, personal communication.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Responding to Radiation Alarms at Metal Processing Facilities, CD ROM based training program, 09/17/02, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
- National Demolition Association, Doylestown, PA, Demolition Safety Manual, Engineering Survey form (Chapter 3).