Disposal of Radioactive Materials and Equipment

EH&S is responsible for the collection, processing, and disposal of all radioactive waste generated at Iowa State University. In order to facilitate these processes, RAM users are required to follow a number of specific procedures regarding radioactive waste generated in their laboratories. Request a radioactive waste collection by submitting an online waste removal request form.

Radioactive waste is separated and labeled by its radionuclide half-lives:

  • Very short-lived – half-lives less than 15 days

  • Short-lived – half-lives between 15 and 90 days

  • Long-lived – half-lives between 90 and 365 days

  • Very long-lived - half-lives greater than 365 days

All radioactive waste must be bagged, labeled, and placed in the lab's designated waste accumulation area prior to requesting a waste collection. Solid and liquid waste containers, secondary containment, plastic bags, and radioactive waste labels are supplied by EH&S.

EH&S will provide guidance for radioactive material or devices that do not fit established disposal processes. Items may include equipment with embedded radioactive sources, contaminated equipment, legacy materials, and materials with multiple hazards.

Solid Radioactive Waste

Solid radioactive waste must be separated and labeled as combustible (plastics, paper, etc.) or noncombustible (glass, metal, etc.)  Uncommon combustible materials include aluminum foil and soil.

Aqueous Liquid Radioactive Waste

Liquid radioactive waste must be separated and labeled according to whether it is aqueous (miscible in water) or bears solvents. Liquid waste can contain a mix of radionuclides. Aqueous liquid waste containers require secondary containment.

Organic Liquid Radioactive Waste

Solvent-bearing waste may only contain 3-H, 14-C, 137-Cs, and 60-Co radionuclides. Solvent-bearing wastes containing other radionuclides require the approval of the RSO prior to generation.

Flammable solvent-bearing wastes, such as those containing toluene or xylene, must be placed in containers specifically approved for flammable liquids. Original solvent containers are recommended for all organic liquid wastes.

Treat organic liquid radioactive waste as a chemical waste with a radioactive hazard following the guidelines for chemical waste and attaching a radioactive waste tag. Organic, liquid radioactive waste containers require secondary containment.

Source Vials

Source vials and source vial storage containers must be bagged separately from other solid waste. Submit radioactive-material-vial consignment sheets with the source vials. To avoid contaminating the vial consignment sheets, place the consignment sheets near the waste bag.  Do not place the consignment sheets inside the waste bag with the vials.


Sharp items, such as needles, razor blades, and broken glass, must be placed in rigid, leak proof, puncture-resistant containers. Items that are also contaminated with biohazardous material must be decontaminated before EH&S collection.

Lead (Pb)

EH&S will collect lead shielding and lead aprons for recycling.

Animal Tissues and Carcasses

Radioactive animal carcasses, viscera, and blood must be sealed in a plastic bag or container, labeled, and frozen prior to removal by EH&S. Laboratory personnel must notify EH&S of any issues with the waste (animal size, fluid leakage, putrefaction, biohazard, etc.) and be available to assist with removal.

Scintillation Vials

All scintillation vials must be emptied into a liquid waste container and recapped prior to disposal. Plastic vials containing biodegradable cocktail and 14C or 3H do not need to be emptied.

Equipment Used with Radioactive Material

Laboratory personnel must ensure the equipment is free of all hazardous substances and has been cleaned.  To request a lab equipment disposal submit a  Laboratory Equipment Disposal Form to EH&S. 

Equipment with Embedded Sources

Equipment containing embedded sources, such as gas chromatographs and liquid scintillation counters, may be transferred between authorized PIs with EH&S approval. The recipient PI and/or their department will assume all costs for equipment disposal. To request a lab equipment disposal, submit a Laboratory Equipment Disposal Form to EH&S.

Disposal of equipment containing embedded sources will be completed through Iowa State University Surplus and the equipment manufacturer, under EH&S guidance. If the equipment manufacturer cannot be located or refuses to take possession of the source, EH&S will assist the PI or department with an alternate disposal method. The PI and/or department will be responsible for all costs associated with equipment disposal. Equipment storage to avoid disposal expense is not permitted. Non-operational equipment containing embedded sources should be identified, repaired, transferred, or disposed of within a reasonable amount of time. Common equipment containing embedded sources includes gas chromatographs, liquid scintillation counters, emergency exit signs, and static elimination devices.

Unused, generally licensed devices, such as liquid scintillation counters and gas chromatographs, must be transferred to another licensee or transferred for disposal within two years of their last use.  Devices kept for future use are excluded from the two-year time limit but must be inventoried quarterly by EH&S. Unused device inventory is an EH&S fee-for-service program. 

Publications and Forms