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Lab Safety Programs, Procedures, & Guides                 

Lab Safety Guide - Chapter 4: Radioactive Materials

The following gives an overview of safety and other topics related to laboratory use of radioactive materials. Adapted from the NMSU Lab Safety Guide (modified  - dls)



1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 APPENDICES
Contents: Topics
  1. Approvals
  2. Labeled containers
  3. Food, drink
  4. Contamination
  5. Waste Disposal
  6. Waste categories.
  1. Emergency evacuation
  2. Caution Signs
  3. Radioactive Materials
  4. Radiation area
  5. Responsible party

         Radiological Wastes


The following general guides should not be considered inclusive of all practices and limitations for the safe use of radioisotopes and for minimizing exposure to ionizing radiation. Refer to the NMSU Radiation Safety Manual for details and procedures involving radioactive materials (available at online and via Environmental Health and Safety).

1. Before performing an experiment involving radiation, assure adequate planning and determine that proper approvals have been granted and that the experiment will not constitute a violation of pertinent rules and regulations. The university endorses a Radiological Safety Program administered by the Radiation Safety Officer (RSO). All activities involving Radioactive materials must be authorized by the RSO, through the EH&S.

2. Keep transferable radioactive materials, contaminated equipment, and sealed sources in designated and properly labeled containers and/or areas to facilitate control of contamination, radioisotope usage and restricted access by unauthorized personnel.

3. Operations in which radioisotopes may become airborne must receive special consideration in regard to monitoring and sampling.

4. Do not smoke, eat, drink or apply cosmetics while working with non-sealed radioisotopes or in an area which may be contaminated with radioactive materials.

5. Use mechanical devices to pipette radioactive solutions. Never pipette radioactive solutions by mouth.   

6. Surveys of the person and area during and after working with transferable radioactive materials are recommended to assure contamination control.

7. Store or transport radioactive materials in a manner to prevent breakage or spillage. Secondary containment is recommended.

8. Wear or use sufficient protective apparel to prevent internal or external contamination of any person.

9. To aid in preventing contamination of work benches, hoods, floors, and normally noncontaminated areas, perform work and store containers of loose or liquid radioactive materials in trays or pans with raised sides. Use plastic backed absorbent paper to protect work surfaces.

10. Dispose of radioactively contaminated wastes as authorized by the Radiation Safety Officer (RSO) and Environmental Health and Safety (Procedure for Radiological Wastes - Appendix V).

  • Waste must be properly identified and segregated into the following categories.     
  • a. Bulk liquid waste - radioactive material in solution. Flammable, toxic or highly volatile solutions shall receive special considerations for disposal.

  • b. Liquid scintillation vials - vials containing radioactive material in toluene, xylene, pseudocumene or other organic solvents.

  • c. Biological waste - radioactively contaminated animal carcasses, biological tissues, blood, human and animal secretions.

  • d. Dry solid waste - radioactive materials not in a liquid or gaseous state, Radioactively contaminated items such as laboratory equipment, paper with less than 0.5% by volume of free standing liquids.

  • e. Gaseous waste - radioactively contaminated material not in a liquid or solid state. Particles less than a nominal 0.3 micron in size suspended in air or other gases are considered as gaseous.

11. Do not touch contaminated material or the active parts of  sources with bare hands. Use adequate precautions and handling tools.

12. Use appropriate radiation warning signs as delineated in the regulations and as specified by the RSO.

13. Sealed sources which are found to be externally contaminated above acceptable limits for uncontrolled areas shall be used or handled as contaminated material and properly controlled to prevent unnecessary contamination of areas, items or persons.

14. Maintenance on contaminated or potentially contaminated systems (e.g., sink traps, floor tile, bench tops, and pumps in contaminated systems) must be coordinated with the RSO. All areas must be identified as potentially radioactive through signs or tape displaying the radioactive symbol.

15. Post emergency evacuation plan conspicuously.

16. Assure that radioisotopes are securely stored and that containers of radioisotopes are properly labeled.   

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Caution Signs and Labels

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Radiation symbols must use the conventional radiation caution colors: magenta or purple on yellow background.

A sign or signs bearing the radiation caution symbol and the words "CAUTION RADIOACTIVE MATERIALS" must be posted in each area or room in which any non-exempt radioactive material is used or stored. (see example caution signs under resources)


In addition to signs and labels prescribed in this part, additional information which identifies the isotopes used, responsible party and emergency procedure must be displayed on the door of the permitted facility.

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Lab Safety Guide