7

I called Kidde about mailing back their radioactive smoke detector now that it has exceeded its usable life. It is labeled that it contains 0.9 micro curies of Americium 241. They claimed over the telephone that the device is safe to discard in the trash.

I was hoping to learn exactly what are the environmental impacts of doing so? I am under the impression that the device will be compressed during the trip to the landfill, destroying the protective casing for the material.

4

This might help answer the question, as some reasoning has been given with the advice:

In New Zealand

Disposing of old smoke alarms

When your smoke alarm fails, you can put it out in your normal rubbish disposal.

On average, a cubic metre of New Zealand soil is about as radioactive as 13 smoke alarms. Disposing of smoke alarms in a landfill doesn’t really change the landfill’s overall radioactivity.

In fact, the natural radioactivity of domestic rubbish is less than that of soil. Even if every household threw out several smoke alarms a year, the average radioactivity in landfills would still be lower than in most New Zealand soils.

Source: The NZ Govt Ministry of Health

4

Don't break it into pieces and breathe the dust. And don't eat it. Avoid doing those two daft things, and you'll be perfectly safe during disposal. The smoke detector itself is electronic waste, and should be handled accordingly: so find an electronics recycler, and give it to them.

It sounds like your local Kidde aren't being very responsible manufacturers when it comes to handling their product at end of life. It might be worth bearing that in mind, the next time you shop for fire safety equipment.

Handling varies by legislature. Here are some examples:

Within the EU

It's covered by the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment directive

Your local municipal waste handler or specialist recycler is obliged to have specialist procedures for dealing with electronic equipment - hand it over to them. If you buy a new one, the retailer may take in your old one at time of purchase.

Within the United States

The EPA in the US advise that:

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulates the radioactive materials in smoke detectors. Because the amount of americium in these devices is so small, NRC's regulations exempt individuals purchasing smoke detectors from licensing requirements including those related to disposal of radioactive materials. You can dispose of single, household smoke detectors as ordinary trash.

That's a pretty sloppy way to handle waste electrical and electronic equipment.

In Australia

The following applies:

Individual (up to 10) smoke alarms can be safely disposed of in domestic rubbish. When more than ten smoke alarms are collected together for bulk disposal, they must be treated as radioactive waste and the requirements of the National Health and Medical Research Council's Code of Practice for the Near-Surface Disposal of Radioactive Waste in Australia (1992) must be met.

  • 1
    I appreciate the detailed (and funny) answer, but I was really looking to understand what the environmental effects are of throwing them in the landfill (the "why"), as opposed to subjective advice about what I should do with them. – glenviewjeff Feb 20 '13 at 2:37

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