Frequent Questions

What kinds of consumer products contain radioactive materials?

A variety of consumer items contain radioactive materials. In some, the radiation is a working part of the product. In others, it is just there because some component is naturally contaminated with radioactive materials.

Learn more about consumer products which contain technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material (TENORM).

Consumer Products with (Ionizing) Radioactive Components or Emissions:

  • Smoke Detectors:
    Most smoke detectors available for home use contain an americium-241 source. Learn more about Americium-241.
  • Watches and Clocks:
    Some watches and clocks contain a small quantity of hydrogen-3 (tritium) or promethium-147, which provides light. Learn more about Tritium. Older watches and clocks (built before 1970) used radium-226 paint on dials and numerals to make them visible in the dark. Avoid opening these items; the radium could flake off and be ingested or inhaled. Learn more about Radium.
  • Older Camera Lenses:
    Camera lenses from the 1950s-1970s often employed coatings of thorium-232 to alter the index of refraction. Learn more about Thorium.
  • Gas Lantern Mantles:
    Older, and some imported, gas lantern mantles generate light by heating thorium-232. Learn more about Thorium.
  • Televisions:
    X-rays may be produced in the conditions under which television components operate. However, most television sets do emit measurable radiation and there is no evidence that radiation from TV sets has resulted in human injury.You can learn more about radiation from TV sets from the Food and Drug Administration's web page, We Want You to Know About Television Radiation.
  • Sun Lamps and Tanning Salons:
    The ultraviolet rays used sun lamps and taning salons are as damaging to skin as the ultraviolet rays of the sun. In fact, warning labels are required which begin "DANGER—Ultraviolet radiation". You can learn more about performance standards for these devices from the Center for Devices and Radiological Health of the Food and Drug Administration.

Consumer Products Containing (Ionizing) Radioactive Contamination:

  • Ceramics:
    Ceramic materials (for example, tiles, pottery) often contain elevated levels of naturally occurring uranium, thorium, and/or potassium. In many cases, the activity is concentrated in the glaze. Unless there is a large quantity of the material, readings above background are unlikely. Nevertheless, some older (for example, pre-1960) tiles and pottery, especially those with an orange-red glaze (for example, Fiesta®ware) can be quite radioactive.
  • Glass:
    Glassware, especially antique glassware with a yellow or greenish color, can contain easily detectable quantities of uranium. Such uranium-containing glass is often referred to as canary or vaseline glass. In part, collectors like uranium glass for the attractive glow that is produced when the glass is exposed to a black light. Even ordinary glass can contain high-enough levels of potassium-40 or thorium-232 to be detectable with a survey instrument.
  • Fertilizer:
    Commercial fertilizers are designed to provide varying levels of potassium, phosphorous, and nitrogen. Such fertilizers can be measurably radioactive for two reasons: potassium is naturally radioactive, and the phosphorous can be derived from phosphate ore that contains elevated levels of uranium. Learn more about radiation and fertilizer and fertilizer production.
  • Food:
    Food contains a variety of different types and amounts of naturally occurring radioactive materials. Although the relatively small quantities of food in the home contain too little radioactivity for the latter to be readily detectable, bulk shipments of food have been known to set off the alarms of radiation monitors at border crossings. One exception would be low-sodium salt substitutes that often contain enough potassium-40 to double the background count rate of a radiation detector.

Learn more about consumer products that contain radiation and other radiation sources in RadTown USA.

 

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