Answer to Question #11320 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Consumer Products — Radioactive Ceramics and Glass

The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:

Q

I purchased a new home and in one of the cabinets the previous owner displayed a collection of Vaseline® glass dinnerware. Can I use this cabinet or would it be contaminated? I am also concerned about the dishwasher she used to clean the Vaseline® glass.

A

You have raised a question about whether your cabinet or dishwasher could be contaminated from contact with radioactive Vaseline® glass dinnerware. This is a good question that may concern other people with such glassware. The answer is that NO residual radioactivity will remain in your cabinet or dishwasher. The coloring agent in Vaseline® glass is uranium which is mixed into the glass at the time of production. Since it is part of the glass, the uranium cannot rub off by contact. A 2001 study by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission indicated that some uranium might be leached from the glass by acids that could result in very small radiation exposures to regular users of the glassware. While some uranium might also be leached during dishwashing, it would be removed with the wash water. Thus, there is no reason to expect any uranium to remain in the dishwasher.

A related question that may also be of concern is whether contact with the radioactive Vaseline® dinnerware could cause other materials to become radioactive. Again, the answer is NO. Uranium emits radiation energy because it has an unstable nucleus. Transfer of that energy does not cause the nuclei of other atoms to become unstable. Thus atoms of materials in contact with radioactive dinnerware do not become radioactive. The bottom line is that your cabinet and dishwasher are perfectly safe to use without concern for contamination with uranium.

You might also like to read a Fact Sheet on this topic or the response to another related question.

Ray Johnson, CHP

Ask the Experts is posting answers using only SI (the International System of Units) in accordance with international practice. To convert these to traditional units we have prepared a conversion table. You can also view a diagram to help put the radiation information presented in this question and answer in perspective. Explanations of radiation terms can be found here.
Answer posted on 18 September 2015. The information posted on this web page is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may affect the applicability of concepts, materials, and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice. To the best of our knowledge, answers are correct at the time they are posted. Be advised that over time, requirements could change, new data could be made available, and Internet links could change, affecting the correctness of the answers. Answers are the professional opinions of the expert responding to each question; they do not necessarily represent the position of the Health Physics Society.