Answer to Question #3433 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"
Category: Consumer Products — Radioactive Ceramics
The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:
I have a very large collection of vaseline glass (uranium glass). This collection is in my home. It consists of over 300 pieces dating back to the early 1800s. Am I subjecting myself and my family to exposure to radiation? A website I went on recently had exposure counts of glass and I was shocked to see the readings. I really would like to have someone come out and do a reading of my collection to determine if it is safe. Also, if glass companies are still using uranium in glass and selling to the public as a collectable, would they be responsible for exposure to those of us who collect large amounts, since they do not give warnings of exposure?
1. Am I subjecting myself and my family to exposure to radiation?
Yes. But the exposures are probably very low. For a detailed discussion and analysis of the possible doses from vaseline glass you can go to section 3.13 in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission publication NUREG 1717 "Systematic Radiological Assessment of Exemptions for Source and Byproduct Materials." This a very large document and will take a while to open.
Keep in mind that we are continually exposed to radiation. For example, I am currently planning several trips by air and every one of these trips will result in a higher dose than the maximum estimated in NUREG 1717 from vaseline glass.
The aforementioned maximum dose calculated in NUREG 1717 was 4 mrem per year and this was to an individual transporting large quantities of the glass from a hypothetical manufacturer to a distribution center. Compare this to the average annual exposure to a member of the public from natural radiation: 300 mrem. Each year the average family probably receives 200 mrem of this 300 as a result of the radon in the home. In other words, the dose to your family from radon will be much higher than the dose due to the uranium glass.
When you make a measurement of the radiation emitted by vaseline glass, the high readings can be a bit of a "shock" as you described it. Nevertheless, this gives a highly misleading idea as to the potential radiation dose. If you are truly concerned about your exposure to radiation, have a radon measurement performed in your home. By the way, uranium glass is not a source of radon.
2. A website I went on recently had exposure counts of glass and I was shocked to see the readings. I really would like to have someone come out and do a reading of my collection to determine if is safe.Assuming you don't want to pay someone to do this, you could contact the appropriate state regulatory agency. The state radiation control programs are usually part of the department of health or the environment. Go to the Conference of Radiation Control Program Directors and click on your state for contact information. Quite frankly, they might consider it of so little concern that they don't want to take their staff away from more pressing duties. They might be able to suggest someone else who could do it however.
3. Also, If glass companies are still using uranium in glass and selling it to the public as a collectable, would they be responsible for exposure to those of us who collect large amounts, since they do not give warnings of exposure?
Only a handful of companies are making vaseline glass in the United States. Should they provide "warnings of exposure?" I don't know of any legal requirement to provide a warning and, even if one was provided, I'm not sure anyone would pay any attention to it. Still, it is an interesting question. Should you warn visitors to your home about the presence of the vaseline glass? Should you provide them information about the radon levels in your home before they step inside? My personal opinion is no, but that's just one person's opinion. Even though the potential radiation exposure from your collection is very, very small, it is still possible to reduce it further. There are three modes of exposure to the radiation associated with the vaseline glass:
1. Exposure to the gamma rays. While uranium emits relatively little in the way of gamma rays, some exposure is unavoidable. You can reduce it by not displaying your collection in an area where people spend a lot of time.
2. Exposure to the hands from the emitted beta particles. This is only an issue when handling the glass. You can reduce the time you or your family handle the glass.
3. Ingestion of uranium that has leached into food or drink in contact with the glass. This possibility can be eliminated by not using any vaseline glass to hold food or drink.
Finally, if you are still worried, sell the collection. Vaseline glass is beautiful stuff, but peace of mind is equally valuable.
Paul Frame, CHP, PhD
Answer posted on 20 February 2004. The information and material posted on this website is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may alter the concepts and applications of 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 specific to whatever facts and circumstances are presented in any given situation. Answers are correct at the time they are posted on the Website. Be advised that over time, some requirements could change, new data could be made available, or Internet links could change. For answers that have been posted for several months or longer, please check the current status of the posted information prior to using the responses for specific applications.
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