That EXIT sign illuminating over the door could contain a radioactive gas called tritium, subjecting it to regulation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) or one of the Agreement States. The Agreement States have assumed limited regulatory jurisdiction over the use of radioactive materials.  

NRC estimates that more than 2 million tritium EXIT signs are currently in use in the United States. To determine whether your sign contains tritium, first look for a label that mentions tritium (H-3), displays the three-bladed radiation warning symbol, and states “Caution-Radioactive Materials.” If you cannot find the label, then turn off all the lights in the vicinity of the sign. The glow of tritium is green.


Tritium EXIT signs are considered “generally licensed devices” because they are inherently safe enough to be handled or used by anyone with no radiation training. The owner of the sign is considered a “general licensee.” The general licensee must designate an individual responsible for complying with the regulatory requirements.


A general licensee using tritium EXIT signs must comply with certain requirements regarding use and transfer of the signs. Additionally, when it is time to dispose of the EXIT sign, the signs must not be thrown in the general trash. Although tritium EXIT signs pose little or no threat to public health and safety, damaged or broken signs could cause mild radioactive contamination requiring expensive clean-up.  So it is important that the signs be properly disposed. Failure to comply with any of the requirements may subject the owner to civil penalties.  One more item for the transaction checklist and one more issue to address in agreements of sale and purchase !