Safety Guidelines for Radioactive Lab

Procurement of Radioactive Materials

All purchase orders of radioactive materials that are in routine use and authorized by the RSO are done by the department administrators. When filling the order please note to give the correct and full information:

  • Catalogue (code) number
  • Radioisotope (i.e. P-32)
  • Quantity
  • Activity (in milli Curie only)
  • Full name of authorized user and the PI
  • Building and room number of the laboratory where the radioisotope will be used
  • Phone number of the laboratory

Safety Guidelines for Radioactive Lab Work

  1. Understand the nature of the hazard and get practical training. Never work with unprotected cuts or breaks in the skin, particularly on the hands or forearms. Never use any mouth operated equipment in any area where radioactive material is used. Always store compounds under the conditions recommended. Label all containers clearly indicating nuclide, compound, specific activity, total activity, date and name of user. Containers should be properly sealed.
  2. Plan ahead to minimize time spent handling radioactivity. Carry out a dummy run without radioactivity to check your procedures. The shorter the time the smaller the dose.
  3. Distance yourself appropriately from sources of radiation. Doubling the distance from the source quarters the radiation dose (Inverse Square Law).
  4. Use appropriate shielding for the radiation 1 cm Perspex will stop all beta particles but beware “Bremsstrahlung” from high energy beta emitters. Use lead acrylic or a suitable thickness of lead for X and gamma emitters.
  5. Contain radioactive materials in defined work areas Always keep active and inactive work separated as far as possible, preferably maintaining rooms used solely for radioactive work. Always work over a spill tray and work in a ventilated enclosure. These rules may be relaxed for small (a few tens of kBq) quantities of H-3, S-35, C-14 and I-125 compounds in a non-volatile form in solution.
  6. Wear appropriate protective clothing and dosimeters. Laboratory coats, safety glasses and latex gloves must be worn at all times. Beware of static charge on gloves when handling fine powders. Local rules will define what dosimeters should be worn for work with high-energy isotopes.
  7. Monitor the work area frequently for contamination control in the event of a spill follow the prepared contingency plan:
    • Verbally warn all people in the vicinity
    • Restrict unnecessary movement into and through the area
    • Report the spill to Radiation Safety 
    • Treat contaminated personnel first
    • Follow clean-up protocol
  8. Follow the local rules and safe ways of working. Do not eat, drink, smoke or apply cosmetics in an area where radioactive substances are handled. Use paper handkerchiefs and dispose of them appropriately. Never pipette radioactive solution by mouth. Always work carefully and tidily.
  9. Minimize accumulation of waste and dispose of it by appropriate routes. Use the minimum quantity of radioactivity needed for the investigation. Disposal of all radioactive waste is subject to statutory control. Be aware of the requirements and use only authorized routes of disposal.
  10. After completion of work – monitor yourself, wash and monitor again Never forget to do this. Report to the local supervisor if contamination is found.

Policies and Procedures for Radioisotope Use

  1. Posting and Marking of Laboratories and Equipment: Each laboratory or area where radioactive materials are used or stored must be posted at the entrance with a CAUTION RADIOACTIVE MATERIALS sign. Entry and area warning signs are to be posted and removed only by Radiation Safety personnel. Refrigerators, freezers, other "in lab" storage areas, and containers in which materials are stored or transported must have a visible label with the radiation caution symbol and the words CAUTION RADIOACTIVE MATERIALS. The label should also state the kind and quantity of material in the container. RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL labels should be removed from containers if they are empty and not contaminated. Areas in the laboratory where radioisotopes are being used should carry a standard RADIOACTIVITY label. Laboratory equipment (flasks, beakers, centrifuges) containing radioactive materials should carry the standard RADIOACTIVITY label. Equipment which comes in contact or is used in handling radioisotopes such as pipettors, shields, stirers and traps must be labeled with the standard RADIOACTIVITY label. Contaminated equipment and tools must be marked with a RADIOACTIVE CONTAMINATION label.
  2. Protective Clothing and Laboratory Safety Precautions:
    • A lab coat and gloves should always be worn whenever any unsealed sources of radioactive material are handled (even in tracer amounts). Chest badges should be worn when required.
    • Pipetting radioactive solutions by mouth is extremely dangerous and must not be done under any circumstances. Use a pipeting device or pipetors with ejectable tips.
    • To avoid spills, use metal or plastic outer trays or beakers to carry liquid radioactive materials from one lab to another.
    • Do not work with unsealed radioactive materials if you have open cuts, sores, etc., on exposed skin areas, even if bandaged.
    • After handling radioactive materials, be sure to wash hands thoroughly before handling food.
  3. Survey Meters: Applicants shall provide radiation survey meters for use in laboratories and work areas (except for those areas where H-3 is used exclusively). Radiation Safety will check survey meters for proper operation and calibrate them once a year. It is the Applicant's responsibility to make the meters available and to obtain any other servicing or repairs to keep meters operational and to replace weak or defective batteries.
  4. Radiation Surveys of Work Area: Users of radioactive materials are required to survey their work areas (hoods, bench tops, sinks, floors, etc.) after each experiment and at any time there is a reason to suspect a spill or contamination incident. Radiation Safety surveys all laboratories on a regular basis. Required surveys are as follows:
    • Routine Survey - Performed by the user after each experiment and at any time there is reason to suspect a spill or contamination incident. These surveys do not have to be documented.
    • Radiation Safety survey - Performed and documented by Radiation Safety personnel.
  5. Radioactive Materials Control: Users must ensure that radioactive materials and sources are used only as described in the application, and must not be loaned or transferred to persons not named in the application without prior approval of the RSO. The loss, disappearance or damage of radioactive materials and radiation sources must be reported to the RSO immediately. The Radiation Safety group maintains a campus inventory record of all incoming radioactive materials. Applicants that leave the WIS have to notify the Radiation Safety of all unattended ionizing radiation sources.
  6. Shielding of Sources and Materials: When not in use, radioactive sources and stock solutions in the laboratory must be stored or shielded so that radiation levels in occupied areas will not expose persons unnecessarily. Appropriate shielding, tool extension, etc. should be used when handling millicurie and greater quantities of radioactive materials. Hydrogen-3 (tritium), carbon-14, sulfur-35, and similar low energy beta emitters are not usually external radiation hazards and do not require shielding or special handling. Gamma emitters (e.g. Cr-51, Rb-86) and high energy beta emitters (e.g., P-32) may present a significant external radiation hazard. The energetic beta emitters should be shielded first with lucite (perspex) and then with lead, if necessary, to minimize the generation of penetrating bremsstrahlung radiation.
  7. Aerosols, Dusts, and Gases: Procedures involving aerosols, dusts, volatile or respirable material must be conducted in hoods or suitable closed systems approved by Radiation Safety.

Use of Radioactive Materials in Animals

Approval to use radioactive materials in animals requires authorization from both the Animal Care and Use Committee and the Radiation Safety Officer. Instructions and requirements applicable to all animal radioisotope use are as follows:

  1. As a minimum, laboratory coats and protective gloves must be worn. Administration of radioisotopes by injection or gastric lavage must be done in a manner to minimize the risk of accidental spillage and contamination.
  2. The applicant must make provisions for the collection and disposal of animal carcasses and associated waste.
  3. Metabolic cages in which animals containing radioisotopes are housed must be labelled with a CAUTION-RADIOACTIVE MATERIALS tag listing the isotope and quantity, date of administration, and the name of the P.I.
  4. Absorbent paper or bedding materials used to collect animal excreta must be discarded in separate radioactive waste containers.
  5. Routine surveys must be made by the researcher of the cages and room where the animals are housed, and areas that indicate removable contamination must be immediately decontaminated.
  6. Cages that are to be washed at the cage wash facility must first be surveyed for contamination and contaminated areas cleaned.