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Radioactive Waste Management

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Radioactive waste management refers to the safe treatment and proper storage and disposal of liquid, solid, and gas discharge from specific activities involving the use of radioactive material. Radioactive waste management at the NIH involves the screening of all waste through the use of radiation detectors and visual inspections to minimize the environmental impact of potential radioactive materials and to protect the health of the NIH community and the general public.

Download the NIH Radioactive Waste Disposal Guide​ for information and guidelines on radioactive waste management at the NIH.​​​​

General Information and Assistance​

Radiation waste management is determined by Nuclear Regulatory Commission guidelines and regulations. Therefore, all researchers play a significant role in ensuring regulatory compliance at the NIH.  

All radioactive material and items contaminated by radioactive materials must be properly identified and separated for appropriate waste disposal to ensure it does not reach the general public through non-radioactive disposal outlets. Each item of radioactive material on the NIH campus must be accounted for upon receipt and disposal. Similarly, items that were previously radioactive and have decayed also cannot be disposed of with general waste and must be accounted for in the DRS tracking database, even if those items possess a short half-life. ​

If you have any questions regarding radioactive waste, please call the DRS Radioactive Waste Disposal line at (301) 496-4451 or download the NIH Radioactive Waste Disposal Guide for information on radioactive waste management at the NIH. You can also download the NIH Waste Disposal Guide for guidance on all waste streams at NIH. ​

Types of Radioactive Waste ​

Radioactive waste is any waste that contains materials that are intrinsically radioactive or have been contaminated with radioactive material. 

 Examples of radioactive waste include: 

  • Aqueous radioactive solutions
  • Liquid scintillation counting fluids and vials (if LSC fluids and vials are flammable, it's “mixed waste") 
  • Materials contaminated with radioactive material after inactivation of infectious agents, such as: 
    • Animal carcasses and excreta
    • Experimental or spill clean-up materials, absorbent paper, gloves − Patient care materials
    • Plastic or glassware 


Radiation Waste Screening

General solid waste

All general waste from the Clinical Center and Building 10 is collected at the Building 10 B2 Loading Dock, where a network of radiation detectors screens all housekeeping carts as they exit the dock. Housekeeping carts that trigger an alarm at the radiation sensor are held aside for pick-up as radioactive waste while all other carts are permitted to be emptied into the dock solid waste dumpster.  

Once a dumpster has reached capacity, the radwaste staff performs a final physical survey to ensure the detectors have not missed any radioactive material. This important step ensures that radioactive material does not reach the Shady Grove Transfer Station and become part of Montgomery County solid waste. Radioactive waste is prohibited from being disposed of through the Shady Grove Transfer Station​ and reaching the public domain.  

Occasionally, radioactivity is found during the dumpster surveys at the Building​ 10 loading dock due to specific radioactive isotopes that are known to be used for human use studies, nonhazardous, and are not regulated for waste disposal in certain forms. The DRS radwaste team identifies these isotopes and arranges for proper routing for disposal.  ​

Medical Pathological Waste (MPW)

All MPW boxes generated by the NIH (not limited to boxes from the Clinical Center or Building 10) are sorted at Building 25, where there is a radiation detector set up to monitor each box for radioactivity. Although incineration is the mandatory disposal process for all generated MPW, radioactive material is not permitted to be incinerated by the NIH-contracted MPW processor. Therefore, preliminary screening is vitally important before any MPW leaves the NIH campus and any box that is flagged for radioactivity is brought to Building 21 for radioactive waste processing. ​


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