United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission - Protecting People and the Environment

Applicability of 10 CFR 20.303 (d) to Disposable Diapers Contaminated with T c-99m

HPPOS-034 PDR-9111210157

See the memorandum from J. R. Mapes to J. R. Metzger dated January 6, 1979, the memorandum from J. R. Metzer to A. B. Davis dated January 18, 1979, and the incoming request of A. B. Davis dated December 13, 1978.

It is an OELD opinion that the exemption in 10 CFR Part 20.303 (d) for excreta applies only to excreta discharged to a sanitary sewer and does not apply to excreta remaining on disposable diapers placed in trash cans or disposed of otherwise.

The health physics position was written in the context of 10 CFR 20.301 and 20.303, but it also applies to the "new" 10 CFR Part 20, Sections 20.2001 and 20.2003.

During a Region III inspection of a children's hospital, an inspector found an infant's disposable diaper contaminated with Tc-99m in a trash can that was not labeled to indicate the presence of radioactive material and that in fact was a normal cold trash can. The hospital had given diagnostic doses of Tc-99m to infants. Diapers soiled with feces were rinsed in the toilet and then placed in the cold trash (i.e., non-radioactive trash).

In response to citations for failure to survey diapers prior to disposal, and disposal of radioactive material by a means not authorized by 10 CFR 20.301 [or 10 CFR 20.2001], the licensee stated they called several children's hospitals across the country and determined that they all use the same method of diaper handling.

They also point out that 10 CFR 20.303 (d) [or 10 CFR 20.2003 (b)] states that "excreta from individuals undergoing medical diagnosis or therapy with radioactive material shall be exempt from any limitations contained in this section," and that this should exempt their diapers.

Region I was contacted and they stated that they have never looked into diaper disposal at medical institutions. Several HPs in both Regions I and III who have worked at medical institutions have stated that persons receiving diagnostic doses of radioactive material are not considered radioactive and are not segregated from other patients and no special handling is given to their bed clothes, bed pans, or excreta. Special handling is reserved for patients under therapy.

Diapers from both children and excreta from incontinent adults undergoing nuclear diagnosis would be considered not radioactive. On the other hand, 10 CFR 20.303 [or 10 CFR 20.2003] addresses disposal by release into the sanitary sewer. The exception in 10 CFR 20.303 (d) [or 10 CFR 20.2003 (b)] applies to excreta that enters the sewer where it is held and diluted before release to an unrestricted area. The citation was not for the feces washed into the sewer but for material remaining on the diapers in normal cold trash that was disposed of by normal trash methods.

There appears to be no exemption for material excreted and not disposed via the sanitary sewer. The OELD opinion agrees with the Region III opinion (i.e., diapers are not exempt from the requirements of 10 CFR 20.303 [or 10 CFR 20.2003] because they contain excreta residue, and therefore, must be labeled as contaminated waste). The exemption only applies to material actually released to the sanitary sewer. Hospitals ordinarily hold contaminated waste for about seven half lives or until there is no detectable contamination and then dispose of the material via normal trash channels. This would be particularly simple for Tc-99m with a half life of 6 hr. Of course, waste destined for normal trash disposal must be placed in a suitable holding area as contaminated waste until the radioactivity has decayed to nondetectable levels.

Regulatory references: 10 CFR 20.303, 10 CFR 20.2003

Subject codes: 9.0, 9.3, 9.7

Applicability: Byproduct material

Page Last Reviewed/Updated Thursday, June 04, 2015