Smoke Detectors

Hazards

The most common type of smoke detector is an ionization detector, which contains a small amount of Americium 241, a synthetic isotope which emits both alpha and gamma rays.  Each smoke detector contains about 1 microcurie (about 1/ 5000 of a gram) of Americium shielded inside of your detector. A metal chamber within the plastic casing of the detector shields the ingredient.  On your wall, this material poses little threat; however, when a detector is broken open in an incinerator or a landfill, it can present a health hazard. Detector companies must accept returned radioactive detectors for disposal as hazardous waste.

The alpha particles emitted from the detector penetrate the air no more than a few centimeters.  The gamma radiation is a low intensity ray, and the casing of the detector blocks much of it.  According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the amount of radiation that escapes the detector is roughly 3000x less than normal background radiation exposure rates, at 1 meter from the alarm.  Background radiation rates consist of the radiation from everyday sources, (the sun, rocks, soil, air, etc.).  The only possible health risk is if the Americium 241 is inhaled.  So, be sure not to disturb, poke or play with the ingredient in your ionization detector.

Handling

Do not crush smoke detector.

Management Options

The Depot now accepts smoke detectors!  They cannot be included in household units and are considered a stand-alone waste stream.  Unfortunately due to the high cost of handling, transportation and disposal of detectors, we have to charge for each one.  Each smoke detector is $5.00 for disposal.

Although it is legal to dispose of your ionization detector in the trash, we encourage you to return the product back to the manufacturer. The Nuclear Regulatory law 10 CFR 32.27 mandates that the radioactive waste is disposed at a nuclear waste disposal facility.  The entire smoke detector needs to be returned to the manufacturer or store. When sending back a smoke detector, do not take it apart. The batteries, however, should be removed and properly disposed of or recycled. No special shipping is needed for your smoke detector: just put it in a box, maybe with some newspaper for padding, and mail it.