4 Reasons to Replace Tritium Exit Signs with Photoluminescent Exit Signs

Having the correct emergency exit and egress systems in place makes all the difference during a fire or power outage at your building. So how do you know if you have the right products in place for your facility in case of emergencies like these? Owners and property managers of older buildings, in particular, might notice they have tritium emergency exit signs, one of two electricity-free options available on the market today. You will know if you have a tritium emergency exit sign versus photoluminescent by simply looking at the sign itself, as it will have a permanent warning label that mentions the tritium, 3H or H-3, displays the three-bladed radiation warning symbol, and states “Caution-Radioactive Materials”. With your tritium exit signs, you have enjoyed much lower electricity and maintenance bills through the years compared to those buildings utilizing electric power emergency exit signs, so that can be seen as a pro. But as exit signs have improved through the years, are the tritium exit signs still the best fit for your building or should you consider replacing them for their newer counterpart, photoluminescent exit signs? It can be confusing to understand if the investment in replacing all your exit signs is a worthy one. With the continual development of new codes and standards, it definitely warrants careful consideration before you rip and replace any life safety system. However, when investigating options to replace your tritium exit signs, considering photoluminescent exit signs as a replacement and upgrade make the most sense from not only a regulation and long term cost savings perspective, but also from an environmental perspective. We have broken it down to four simple reasons why you should replace your tritium exit signs with photoluminescent exit signs.

1) Toxic vs Non-Toxic. Photoluminescent technology is currently one of the only non-electric, non-radioactive options on the market for approved emergency exit signs. If you own tritium exit signs, then you probably know they are radioactive in nature due to the regulations you have to follow. Since the tritium is odorless, colorless, and tasteless, only special instruments can detect its presence, which means if the tritium is to escape from broken or damaged exit signs— it will contaminate your facility and potentially result in huge safety and liability issues. On top of the safety concerns, the required cleanup of the radioactive tritium is expensive and complex. Generally, the main concern with tritium is the internal exposure through inhalation. The dose of tritium that would need to be taken to be capable of causing harm is considered unlikely, but regardless due to their radioactive nature they must be treated as toxic because they are.

Phosphor is the main ingredient found in photoluminescent exit signs, which offer properties that allow it to absorb, store, and then emit light in darkened conditions whenever they are exposed to light. Photoluminescent exit signs using long glowing phosphor (LPP) act as a sponge by absorbing and holding light energy, then slowly releasing it to provide illumination when needed in an emergency. Phosphor offers a low maintenance and hassle-free safe solution to electricity-free exit signs.

When it comes to disposal of photoluminescent exit signs you can simply throw them in the recyclables or garbage— depending on your manufacturer. However, tritium exit signs because of their toxic nature must be disposed of per the Nuclear Regulatory Commission specifications which can cost between $75 -150 per expired exit sign.

2) Rules and Regulations. Because tritium is radioactive, there are regulatory requirements to be aware of and follow when purchasing exit signs containing the substance. Under federal regulations, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) or a state authorized to administer its own comparable program (called an Agreement State), will regulate all products containing tritium. If you fail to comply with NRC or your Agreement State’s requirements regarding the use of the tritium exit signs or disposal of them, you will potentially be hit with hefty fines and penalties.
Reasons to Replace Tritium Exit Signs with Photoluminescent Exit Signs
Stop and Think of This! Because of their toxic nature and a long list of rules and regulations, tritium exit signs are slowly being banned. Notably, it has been announced that tritium exit signs and tritium products, in general, are prohibited for use by:

  • U.S. Department of Defense—criteria specifically prohibits tritium exit signs in military facilities
  • Numerous college campuses, including California State University
  • Municipalities; the entire city of Berkeley, California has phased out tritium exit signs in favor of more environmentally friendly options and Jones County in North Carolina replaced old signs by installing new UL 924-compliant photoluminescent signs in every county building.

3) Lifespan of the exit sign. Often overlooked by points one and two, but still worth mentioning is the shorter lifespan a tritium exit sign has compared to that of the photoluminescent exit sign. Generally, tritium exit signs have a 10 to 20-year compliant life and must then be replaced and disposed of in accordance with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) or Agreement State’s regulations. Considering you will probably plan to have your building structure for much longer than ten years, you will have to factor in EPA-approved vendor disposal fees and replacement fees decade over decade. Photoluminescent exit signs offer a superior option when it comes to lifespan, lasting 25+ years. As an additional perk, you will not have any regulations or fees around disposal of photoluminescent exit signs because they are not toxic.

4) Cost Savings. Throughout the three reasons, we have already mentioned several ways photoluminescent exit signs will ultimately offer you a long term cost savings compared to that of tritium exit signs. When it comes to purchasing initial photoluminescent exit signs, they will also cost less up front then tritium exit signs. Maintenance on photoluminescent exit signs is minimal visual monthly inspection and general dusting or cleaning and according to the U.S. Department of Energy, they are the most energy-efficient exit sign on the market today.

Where Are We Seeing Photoluminescent Materials?

Although photoluminescent technology came after tritium, it is nothing new. New York City passed New York Law 26 in 2004 after the September 11th tragedy and other (unrelated) incidents, which mandated the use of photoluminescent technology in all buildings over 75 feet high. Following suit, the International Building Code and International Fire Code also revised to include approval to use photoluminescent technology in new and existing high-rise buildings. The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea also mandated photoluminescent materials for safety and rescue products for decades. Another notable use of photoluminescent technology is on passenger rail trains required by APTA.

What Else Should I Know Before Purchasing Photoluminescent Exit Signs?

Although non-toxic, photoluminescent exit signs need to adhere to specific regulating authorities requirements including Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), International Building Code, International Fire Code. UL, in particular, is the key certification organization that validates products for emergency exit signage in the jurisdictions that adopt the International Building Code (IBC), International Fire Code (IFC) and NFPA 101: Life Safety Code. The technical standard for photoluminescent exit signs and egress systems is known as UL 924, Emergency Lighting and Power Equipment. UL 924 applies to any emergency lighting and power equipment for use in unclassified locations and intended for connection to branch circuits of 600 V or less. Therefore, when it comes time to replace your tritium exit signs for photoluminescent exit signs make sure that you specify an exit sign that is UL 924 listed and install it per NFPA 101, International Building Code, and the International Fire Code. Contact Jessup Manufacturing to discuss your options for photoluminescent exit signs and egress systems today.

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