Skip to main content

Radioactive Waste

This page covers the general requirements of managing radioactive waste in the lab and preparing it for collection and disposal by EHS. You must adhere to these procedures to ensure the safety of everyone who handles your waste, and to comply with New York State regulatory requirements.

Waste Minimization

Cornell relies on laboratories to minimize the volume and activity of radioactive waste generated to avoid charging labs for waste disposal expenses.

  • Do not order more activity than is necessary.
  • Use radioisotopes with half-lives less than 90 days when possible. (EHS is licensed to decay such material in our central storage facility until it becomes non-radioactive waste.)
  • Use a separate waste container for mixed-hazardous waste.
  • Do not dispose of non-radioactive material as radioactive waste. Survey potentially contaminated items, if they are less than 2 times background and 100 DPM, they are not radioactive. Remove or deface any radiation symbols or markings and dispose as regular trash. This includes packing materials, but not stock vials or lead pigs.
  • Use approved Biosafe liquid scintillation cocktails.
  • Keep activity in LSC vials below 1.0 millicurie.
  • Scintillation vials that do not contain radioactive material are disposed of as regular hazardous waste, not radioactive waste. See the Hazardous Waste Manual.
  • Do not allow excessive radioactive waste to accumulate in the lab.

Managing Waste in the Lab

  • Use dedicated waste containers to keep waste types separate: dry, sharps, liquids, scintillation vials, regulated medical waste. Before starting to fill a waste container, it must be conspicuously labeled with the radiation symbol and the isotope.
  • Use individual containers to separate different isotopes with half-life less than 90 days. A single container can be used for long-lived isotopes with half-life greater than 90 days.
  • EHS must approve of waste containers. In most cases EHS can provide waste containers and labels.
  • The exterior of your waste containers must be kept free of contamination. They must be included in your monthly wipe tests, and they must be surveyed before submitting a radioactive waste request to EHS. If you find contamination and need assistance, submit a ticket to

Dry Waste

  • Includes contaminated gloves, bench paper, tissues, paper towels, disposable pipette tips, empty stock vials, etc.
  • Must not contain standing liquid, regulated medical waste, or lead.
  • Must not be placed in the standard waste containers that are emptied by building care personnel.
  • Dry waste containers must have radiation labels on two opposite sides and the lid. Containers must also be labeled with isotope. The container must be double-bagged with radioactive waste bags provided by EHS. Biohazard bags must not be used.
  • For isotopes with half-life less than 90 days, all radioactive labels or markings must be removed before placing in a dry waste container.Items that cannot be defaced must be collected separately, for example in a ziplock bag marked “labels”, and turned over to EHS for disposal.
  • Contaminated metals must be collected separately from other dry waste.


Regulated Medical Waste Sharps

  • Includes only hypodermic needles, syringes, pasteur pipettes, scalpel blades, and blood vials.
  • RMW sharps contaminated with radioactive material must be collected separately from non-radioactive sharps. Use a red sharps container labeled with both biohazard, and radiation symbol, and isotope.

Other Sharps

  • Includes contaminated sharps that are not regulated medical waste (razor blades, broken glass, serological pipettes etc.)
  • Collect in a puncture-resistant, leak-proof container labeled with the radiation symbol and the isotope.

Liquid Waste

  • Includes aqueous or EPA identified (either listed or characteristic) hazardous waste
  • Liquid radioactive waste must not be disposed into the sanitary sewer.
  • Containers must be labeled with the radiation symbol, isotope, and the chemical constituents
  • Do not fill bottles or carboys beyond the shoulder of the container. Containers that are overfilled are a transportation hazard and cannot be removed by EHS staff
  • Bottles must be kept in secondary containment large enough to hold all of the contents if the bottle should break. Carboys must be kept in a basin or tray large enough to contain spills during transfers.
  • Liquid waste must not contain solid materials such as vials, tubes, magnetic stirrers, filters, pipettes, particulate, precipitate, etc.
  • Liquids must have a pH of between 5.5 and 9.5, unless other arrangements have been approved by the Radiation Safety Committee and EHS.
  • Use 1 gallon bottles or sturdy Nalgene carboys with a volume of 20 liters or less
    • For isotopes with a half-life of greater than 90 days, do not use containers larger than 1 gallon. Plastic containers are preferred.
  • Use permanent marker label carboys with the permit holder name, laboratory room number and building name. Carboys in good condition will be returned to the lab after a 10 half-life decay period.
  • Bottles can be repurposed for collecting radioactive waste, after triple-rinsing, removing or defacing all markings, and adding the required waste labeling. Bottles will not be returned.

Liquid Scintillation Vials

  • Retain the original trays and shipping boxes for disposal.
  • Must not contain isotopes with half-life greater than 109 days, except H-3 or C-14.
  • Use the original trays to collect vials for disposal. Vials be separated by isotope.
    • Vials containing H-3 and/or C-14 may be packaged together.
  • Must not contain lead (including Pb-210), mercury, or Uranium/Thorium Compounds.
  • Do not allow excessive accumulation of waste scintillation vials.
  • Use "Biosafe" scintillation fluid whenever possible. LSC vials containing biosafe fluid that is not contaminated with radioactive material (e.g. monthly wipe tests) may be disposed of into the sanitary sewer. The approved cocktails are:
    • Amersham
      • NBCS 204
    • Atlantic Nuclear
      • Econo-Safe
    • Beckman
      • Ready Safe
    • DuPont
      • NEF-989
    • Fisher
      • Scint-safe Econo 1
      • Scint-safe Econo 2
      • Ultima-Flo AP
    • ICN
      • Ecolume
      • UniverSol ES
      • BetaMax ES
      • CytoScint ES
    • Isolab
      • Solvent Free
    • National Diagnostics
      • Ecoscint
    • Packard
      • Ultima Gold
      • Opti-Flour

Animal Materials

  • Material generated from animal experiments, or treatment at the veterinary hospital. Each type must be segregated. No animal materials will be removed prior to suitable deactivation of infectious agents.


  • Soiled bedding must be collected separately from other contaminated waste
  • Double bag this waste using bags provided by EHS


  • Collect blood/urine separately in 1 gallon containers.


  • Animal carcass waste must be segregated from other material
    • Do not combine with gloves, paper, absorbent pads, etc.
    • Treat containers in which tissues were stored or analyzed as dry waste.
    • Do not combine with other carcass waste streams scheduled for treatment at the College of veterinary medicine.
  • Double bag carcasses in clear plastic bags, removing as much air as possible before sealing. Label with radioactive material tape and the isotope.
  • Carcasses must be kept frozen.
    • Be proactive about maintaining your freezer. Do not allow excessive frost to build up.
  • Carcass material cannot be digested unless it is specifically authorized by the Radioactive Material Permit, and contains less than 0.05 microcuries (uCi) per gram of H-3 and/or C-14.

Depleted Uranium and Thorium

  • Waste from depleted uranium and thorium compounds such as uranyl acetate must be collected separately from other types of radioactive waste described herein.

Preparing Waste for Collection by EHS

  • Radioactive waste is collected by EHS on Tuesday mornings. Pickup requests must be submitted by noon on Monday using the radioactive waste pickup request form.
  • Exterior surfaces of each container must be surveyed and free of removable contamination. Calculate the exterior contamination in DPM and list it on the waste tag. Keep the printout of the wipe survey results with the waste tag.
  • Attach the waste tag to the container, or keep the tag near the container where EHS can easily find it.
  • Recycled containers are available on a limited basis through EHS. Please make request in the notes section of the on-line waste removal form.
  • EHS may have to refuse waste that has not been prepared properly.
  • Ensure that EHS personnel can access to the lab. If you expect to be unavailable, make prior arrangements and post instructions on the laboratory door.

Dry Waste

  • The wipe survey can be taken from the upper half of the closed bag, allowing it to stay in the container so building care staff do not accidentally collect it and dispose of it as normal trash.

Liquid Waste

  • Record the chemical contents and the pH value on the Radioactive Waste Tag.
  • Caps to all vessels must seal completely to prevent leakage during transport.

Liquid Scintillation Vials

  • Keep vials in the upright position at all times.
  • Pack trays of vials in the original shipping box, or a similarly sized box. Clearly mark which direction is up on the outside of the box.
    • If a box is not available, trays may be packed on top of absorbent material, and double-bagged.
  • Place the radioactive waste label on the outside of the box. Identify the isotope and the brand of scintillation fluid.


  • Lead shielding, including lead pigs, must be collected by EHS for disposal. Lead is toxic, wear disposable gloves when handling exposed lead.
  • Survey lead for contamination before requesting a pickup.
  • Collect in a box. Do not exceed 20 pounds.
  • A Radioactive Waste Tag is not required.


  • Biohazardous material must be deactivated using lab-specific procedures approved by the Radiation Safety Committee before requesting a waste pickup.

Written Program/Manuals

Radiation Safety Manual PDF Protected Document