22. "Smoke Detectors: A Fad With Fallout"
By owning radioactive type smoke detectors, thirteen million American
families have come in contact with an element more radioactive than
plutonium-239. Americium-241 is the radioactive ingredient in radioactive
type smoke detectors.
There are two types of smoke detectors available, photoelectric and
radioactive. Americium-241, the active element in radioactive detectors,
has a half-life of 460 years. It can translocate from lung to liver
when in contact with a human body. It can also be inhaled when it is
in an oxidized form.
Once in the biosphere, Americium-241 is more of a risk than plutonium.
It is readily taken up by animals and plants.
Radioactive smoke detectors work with the aid of a small electric conductor,
while photoelectric detectors work when a beam of light, inside the
unit, is interrupted by smoke.
The amount of Americium in detectors varies. The average amount in
household units is about two microcuries. Those used by factories, office
buildings, and hospitals range as high as 15 microcuries. Two microcuries
is considered lethal.
The average life of a radioactive type smoke detector is 15 years.
If they are not disposed of properly, which is to return them to nuclear
reservations, they could filter through garbage dumps emitting radioactive
particles into the soil and into the food chain of humans. This soluble
element, Americium, when ingested will readily move through the bloodstream.
Smoke detectors are designed to withstand heat up to 1,000 degrees
centigrade. The radioactive particles are protected by a thin gold foil.
When it is burned, the Americium will vaporize and oxidize; it is at
this point that the danger rises. When it gets into our food the risk
Due to the lack of publicity concerning this potential hazard and the
widespread sale of radioactive type smoke detectors, this story is being
nominated as one of the "best censored stories of 1977."
"Caution! Smoke Detectors May be Dangerous to Your Health,"
by McKinly C. Olson, The Progressive, August, 1977, pp. 22-26.