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Radioactive Consumer Products
I believe most people are unaware that some of the consumer products around us contain radioactive material (RAM) (i.e. uranium).
I’m posting this not to scare the public, but to raise awareness of which common consumer products contain this kind of RAM. Also, this is to tell them that radiation has many uses in our daily life.
Take a look at the pictures below and see if you can recognize them if they appear in your home.
Check-Up Gum helps fight plaque. As the gum is chewed, tiny particles of zirconium silicate (the third ingredient) scrape the teeth clean.
Check·Up Gum is featured here because of the high uranium and thorium content in zirconium silicate (eg, 100 pCi/g). The amount of zirconium silicate in the gel was such that the uranium concentration was about 7 pCi per gram of gel. Chewing gum also contains 7 pCi of Ra-226 per gram due to the secular equilibrium of the uranium series. Interestingly, this level of radium in the soil necessitated remedial measures in many cases.
Although Check Up Gum is no longer produced, zirconium silicate continues to be used in toothpaste and some toothpastes. Still, consumers can rest assured that the radiation dose is negligible — the radioactive material is bound in zirconium silicate and won’t be absorbed if swallowed.
This is a 3M Model C-15 Decorative Scotch Tape Dispenser. The thoriated monazite sand used as ballast is slightly radioactive. This particular example comes from a 55 gallon tape dispenser drum that the US Army disposes of as radioactive waste.
Based on a survey by the Los Angeles County Health Department in early 1988, state radiation control programs in the United States issued warnings about the manufacture and use of jewelry made from old watch parts. These components often include radioluminescent dials and hands. Jewelry including brooches, bracelets, earrings, etc. became very popular, and because of the ease of production, the typical manufacturer was a small business operating out of someone’s home or apartment. Production is known to have taken place in California, Oregon, Texas, and Pennsylvania. Radiation control programs in Tennessee, Texas, and some other states invite the public to bring suspicious jewelry to their offices for radiation monitoring.
The usual way of making it is to disassemble old watches, clean the parts with some kind of abrasive, polish the parts, assemble the jewelry, and possibly spray paint it with acrylic. Manufacturers don’t seem to be aware of the potential hazards.
Although some jewelry came into direct skin contact, and some sites were found to be contaminated (eg, up to 50,000 cpm), there were no reports of injuries to individuals wearing or making jewelry. Nonetheless, one person who had been making such jewelry for six years was found to have “a 1/30th radium-226 burden in the body.”
Potassium Chloride Soft Water Salt
Hard water contains more minerals than regular water, especially calcium and magnesium. This can lead to fouling in pipes and equipment. A water softener is used to reduce the concentration of these minerals.
Essentially, a water softener consists of ion exchange resins that remove minerals as water flows through it. After a while, the resin becomes saturated with these minerals and no longer works. At this point, the salt solution was added to the resin. The salt exchanges with the accumulated minerals and allows them to be flushed from the water softener down the drain. This rejuvenates the softener.
Various materials are available as water softener salts, such as sodium chloride (NaCl) or potassium chloride (KCl). In the example shown here, the water softener salt contains more than 99% potassium chloride.
All Potassium contains Potassium 40, a naturally occurring beta gamma emitter, in sufficient quantities to be easily detected with a simple meter. For example, the bag couldn’t get past the plant’s monitors without setting off an alarm.
The ionization chamber smoke detector was invented in Switzerland in the early 1940s and introduced to the United States in 1951.
The sensitive component of the ICSD is an ionization chamber that is open to the atmosphere (bottom left). A radioactive source in the room emits radiation that ionizes the air in the room and makes it conductive.
Ionization chamber smoke detectors almost always use alpha emitters as the source because of the high ionization density they produce.
Most ICSDs sold today use an oxide of americium-241 (Am-241) as the radioactive source. The typical activity of a modern residential ICSD is around 1 uCi, whereas for public and commercial buildings the activity can be as high as 50 uCi. In 1980, the average activity of a residential smoke detector was about 3 uCi, three times higher than today.
Am-241 is an alpha emitter, but it also emits low energy (59.5 keV) gamma rays. Am-241 is mixed with gold and incorporated into composite gold and silver foil sandwiches. The source is 3 to 5 mm in diameter and can be crimped or welded into place within the chamber.
Other nuclides have also been used. NRC records indicate that approximately 124,000 ICSDs using nickel-63 (Ni-63) were sold between 1971 and 1986. These cells average about 10 microcuries per Ni-63.
Radium 226 (radium sulfate) was the first radioactive source used in smoke detectors. According to NUREG/CP-0001, US manufacturers stopped producing smoke detectors containing Ra-226 when they switched to Am-241 in 1963. Nonetheless, radium-containing ICSDs appear to have been sold in the United States until at least 1978, according to NCRP 95. Typical residential smoke detectors contain 0.05 uCi of Ra-226, but some contain as much as 0.1 uCi. Commercial smoke detectors employ a fairly high activity.
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