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Decontaminating Radioactive Material

When radioactive material is in an unwanted or unplanned location, it is called contamination. This may be floors, equipment, work areas, storage areas, people or areas outside the authorized radiation use laboratory. Fortunately, most radioactive contamination and/or spills are easy to clean to background levels in a reasonable time and with reasonable cost. Some methods of decontamination are as follows:

Liquid Radioactive Decontaminant: Concentrated liquid decontaminating agents are available from General Stores and most scientific suppliers. This detergent is diluted with water and rapidly and easily cleans radioactive contamination without excessive effort. Mild wiping or scrubbing will remove most contamination using this detergent. Note that these detergents contain a carcinogen, so the Material Safety Data Sheet should be read by new radiation users so that they are aware of the hazards. In dilute liquid form, radioactive decontaminants do not present a significant hazard to handlers unless ingested or splashed in eyes. Avoid prolonged skin contact with the concentrated material.

Foam Spray Decontaminant: A variety of foam spray decontamination products are available which are marketed as radioactive decontaminants. However, many other foam cleaning products accomplish decontamination just as effectively at a much lower cost; most of these are marketed in any store as bathroom or kitchen cleaning agents. Spray the foam on the contaminated areas, let sit for a few minutes, then wipe off with a dry paper towel.

Other Decontaminating Agents: Many other agents will work to clean radioactive contamination that has been resistant to the above methods. Contact a Health Physicist for assistance with difficult to remove contamination. We will help identify a method of decontamination which will work for your particular surface, nuclide, chemical form and location. Depending on these factors, effective solutions to the problem will be identified.

Contamination on Skin: Use lukewarm (not hot or cold) water and a mild cleaning agent, such as soap. Do not rub hard or scrub with abrasives, which may break the surface of the skin. Clean the affected area in a downwards fashion, with the grain of the skin and hair, not against it, and towards the tips of extremities, not upwards. Check the area after gentle drying. If still contaminated, use a cream hand cleaner which contains no abrasives. Remember to notify the Radiation Safety Officer immediately if personnel contamination occurs or is suspected. Also, note the readings of radioactive contamination detected with the survey instrument and the times that it was discovered and then removed.

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