December 17, 2012
Last week a reader of this blog asked me where we could take smoke detectors for disposal or recycling.
I looked at websites and spoke with a number of individuals with the State Department of Health, Department of Ecology and the Local Hazardous Waste Management Program to find out. I was quite entertained by an article in Harpers Magazine about a Boy Scout who obtained over 100 smoke detectors, extracted the radioactive disks and in combination with other materials attempted to create his own breeder reactor,...but I digress.
There is more that one kind of smoke detector. An ionization detector uses a small disk of radioactive material to detect particles emitted by combustion. A photoelectric detector uses a photo sensor and light beam to detect smoke. A particular smoke detector technology may only detect certain types of fires.
For more information about how detectors work, and the correct applications and sensitivities of ionization detectors vs. photoelectric detectors, see the EPA Web site on Smoke Detectors and Radiation.
According to Julie Mitchell, the project manager of the Wastemobile (handles Moderate Risk Waste MRW) "Smoke detectors are considered low level materials, 'below regulatory concern' so are acceptable in the garbage."
Julie goes on to offer another alternative to the landfill: "Users can ship the smoke detectors back to the manufacturer with a freight service (UPS, FEDEX, DHL) via its ground transportation service. The freight services recommend not using the US Postal service but I don't know for a fact if USPS prohibits smoke detectors." (As of this writing I have not received an answer back from USPS on this question). "Manufacturers are mandated by Nuclear Regulatory law to ensure detectors they receive are disposed of at proper facilities."
"Smoke detectors must be intact; batteries removed and put in a sturdy box. The box should have "FOR DISPOSAL ONLY" written on the outside and the following statement on the waybill "This package conforms to the conditions and limitations specified in 49 DFR 173.422 and 173.424 for radioactive material, excepted package-instruments or articles UN2911". I would assume the freight service could assist users with the proper statement for shipping.
One other detail is resident's pay for shipping not the manufacturers."
What if you are a business owner replacing a large number of ionization smoke detectors?
My initial investigation on the website of the Local Hazardous Waste Management Program in King County gave the false impression that businesses could take smoke detectors to the local hazardous waste site. THIS IS NOT CORRECT.
According to Mary Rabourn of the Local Hazardous Waste Management Program "We do not accept radioactive materials at the Wastemobile and other facilities, so businesses that qualify to use those services would not be able to bring them in."
This leaves shipping them back to the manufacturer as the best option.
For questions on businesses that wish to recycle or dispose of hazardous waste see the Local Hazardous Waste Management Program Website.
For questions on recycling and drop off locations see the Department of Ecology website.