IEMA Helps Schools Remove Unused Radioactive Materials

Program enables schools to avoid costly disposal costs and ensure student safety

SPRINGFIELD -- More than 60 Illinois schools already have benefitted from a state program that helps schools safely remove unused radioactive materials at no cost. The Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) is encouraging other schools to check for similar materials in storage closets and laboratories and to contact IEMA about collection and disposal.

“We believe there are many more schools in Illinois that could benefit from this program,” said IEMA Director James K. Joseph. “Some of them may be unaware they have old radioactive materials tucked away in labs or storage closets. We have the expertise and equipment to safely remove these materials from schools and prevent students and faculty from unnecessary exposure to radiation.”

Types of radioactive materials found in schools are chemical compounds containing uranium or thorium and small solid sealed sources. This material is commonly used in chemistry, physics, and earth science experiments to demonstrate the physical and chemical properties of radioactive material.

The school initiative was created in 2005 as part of IEMA’s Orphan Source Recovery Program, in which the agency collects unwanted or abandoned radioactive materials throughout the state. These “orphan sources” are radioactive materials that have been abandoned, found or entered the commerce of scrap material without being able to identify its origin. These materials may pose a threat to public health and safety or potential impacts to the environment.

There is no cost to schools for IEMA’s removal of the materials.  A school not using IEMA’s program could pay more than $1,000 for disposal of the material.  In addition, a spill of the materials at the school could create extra expenses for cleanup activities. 

Once the radioactive material is collected by IEMA, it is securely stored until enough material is collected to make disposal economical. Disposal costs are covered by a federal grant.

IEMA recently assisted LaSalle-Peru Township High School with removal of radioactive teaching kits from the 1960s that were stored in old cabinets.

“I cannot say enough for IEMA’s program to remove unused or unwanted radioactive sources from schools,” said LaSalle-Peru Township High School Superintendent Steven Wrobleski. “The agency responded immediately and sent a field rep to our high school to test and remove the materials at no cost to the district. They were great to work with and saved us thousands of dollars by not having to hire a private firm. This is a great example of our state government working to help schools!”

Any schools with unwanted radioactive materials can contact IEMA at (217) 558-5135 for more information about the Orphan Source Recovery Program School Initiative.

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