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Author Topic: How dangerous is a bottle of radium tritium paint?  (Read 8854 times)

Offline bobfl42

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I have a friend who is a bit of a hoarder. He has everything in his house. I mentioned the use of radium they used years ago on clocks and watchs. He said "I have some of that"
He then fetched out a small box that contained 2 small vials of a pale green substance with small rubber bungs.
The enclosed paper was headed "RADIUM TRITIUM" he said it is about 40 years old.
My question is, how dangerous is it? A quick look on the internet would suggest not very if it remains sealed.
No! he will not allow any authority to come and remove it willingly.
Robert...
« Last Edit: 03/09/2011 10:08:13 by chris »


 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: How dangerous is a bottle of radium tritium paint?
« Reply #1 on: 06/08/2011 19:44:57 »
Did you look at the vials in the dark?

It is an interesting mix. 

The tritium has a halflife of about 12 years.

So, however much tritium you started with, after 12 years, you would have had 1/2, after 24 years, 1/4, after 36 years, 1/8, and after 48 years, 1/16.  In a few more decades, you might not be able to detect it.  Tritium is a low energy beta emitter, and really is only dangerous if you eat it.

Radium has a much longer half life, 1601 years, so it will have almost the same amount you started with for a very long time.  While it is primarily and alpha emitter, it leads to a long decay chain which may have some gamma emissions.  Gamma emissions are the only emissions that could get outside of the vial if it is sealed (like taking a mini x-ray)  One of the decay products is Radon, which is a gas.  It is ubiquitous in the environment at low concentrations.  However, you likely have some concentrated radon in the top of the container which you could breathe in if you ever opened it.

Anyway, I think I would agree.  If the vials remain sealed, then they would be reasonably safe.  I don't think I would store them in a room that the person spends a lot of time in. 

The rubber stoppers will likely degrade over time which could be a problem.  As mentioned, there likely is some radioactive radon gas in the vials.  Even replacing aging stoppers could release some Radon Gas, and at least should only be done in a well ventilated area, possibly with breathing equipment.  Also, keep in mind that if the vials are sealed, removal of them would be trivial.  If they are spilled, it could become a major hazmat incident. 

Do you know anybody that does home photography developing?

One "low-tech" thing that might be interesting to try.  Fix up a couple of pieces of unexposed film by creating a dark, sealed container.  Put some little buttons of lead, like flattened fishing sinkers, right on top of the film.  Put one of these near the vials.  Put one in a different room in the house.  Leave them for a month or so, then develop the film.

Oh, and if you do decide to paint some watch faces.  Don't lick the brush between strokes.
« Last Edit: 06/08/2011 19:47:17 by CliffordK »
 

Offline bobfl42

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Re: How dangerous is a bottle of radium tritium paint?
« Reply #2 on: 06/08/2011 21:17:59 »
Thank you for such a comprehensive reply. My friend keeps it in the living room under the TV. So from safety is concerned the danger is releasing radon gas. As far as doing the suggested experiments it is the sort of thing I would like to do but my fried holds on to his things and not allow me to.
I have not seen them in the dark but will try too next time I visit.
Just another though would the vials be ordinary glass or lead glass? He said they would be 40 years old I feel they would probably be a lot older.

Robert...
 

Offline RD

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Offline imatfaal

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Re: How dangerous is a bottle of radium tritium paint?
« Reply #4 on: 07/08/2011 17:13:25 »
Could you take a mobile phone photo and post it?  Radium and Tritium are both separate elements and thus the name is confusing. Both are used as the radioactive element of glow in the dark watches etc.  If it is radium based - it could well have built up some radon gas through decay (but this would have in turn decayed itself).   I wouldn't open the can - if it is radium you will get a dose of radon, which is a source of ionizing radiation.  Breathing high concentration radon gas has been linked with lung cancer.

Tritium decays by giving off beta-radiation (which reacts with phosphor to glow) and Helium 3.  As Clifford said - most of the Tritium will already have decayed. 

To be honest Robert - in order to have an interesting tin can under the tv - your friend is potentially taking a risk with his and his housemates/family's health.  The risk could be tiny - we don't know - but why take it in the first place. 
 

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Re: How dangerous is a bottle of radium tritium paint?
« Reply #4 on: 07/08/2011 17:13:25 »

 

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