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Environment, Health and Safety

Working With P-32

Phosphorus-32 is a commonly used radionuclide with a half-life of 14.3 days, emitting beta particles with a maximum energy of 1.71 MeV (Million Electron Volts).


Vial of Radioactive P-32

Vial of radioactive P-32


The major concerns with using P-32 are:

Surface radiation exposure to the skin of the hands. A drop of contamination containing 1 microcurie of P-32 on 1 cm2 area of the skin produces an exposure of 2,000 millirems / hour.
Radiation exposure in air over an open vial: The dose rate at the opening of a vial containing 1 millicurie of P-32 can be as high as 26,000 millirems per hour.

Using lower concentrations of P-32 in any form is very desirable. Most companies will provide lower concentrations if requested. The cost of using pre-labelled materials or lower concentrations is higher but the return in safety more than offsets the additional cost.



The following equipment and supplies must be available:

  • A Geiger Counter sensitive to beta particles calibrated by EH&S and a liquid scintillation counter.
  • We recommend the Ludlum Model 3-98 or an equivalent. This device will allow the detection not only of P-32's beta particles but also the secondary x-rays.
  • 3/8" or 1/2" Plexiglas benchtop shield. These are available from many lab equipment vendors. The Health Science Fabrication Department in Farber Hall (829-2477) on the South Campus can also custom make one for you. If you are going to handle more than 1 millicurie, we recommend the 1/2" thickness.
  • Disposable latex or plastic gloves.
  • Film badge and ring badge.
  • Full-length lab coat.
  • EH&S approved waste containers (P-32 Decay Storage box for dry waste; P-32 Decay Sorage Organic Liquid container for scintillation waste; Aqueous Liquid container for water based waste).
  • Plexiglass shields for radioactive waste containers. These are available from many lab equipment vendors such as VWR, Fisher, etc. but also may be customed made at the Health Science Fabrication Department.
  • Pipettes dedicated to the use of P-32.
  • Plastic safety glasses.
  • Commercial decontaminate, i.e. DuPont's "Count Off".

P-32 Shielding

Plexiglas (lucite) is the best shield for beta particles from P-32. When more than 1 millicurie of P-32 is handled, a sufficient number of x-rays (bremmstrahlung) may be formed to require Lead foil to be added to the exterior of the shield. The beta particles travel a maximum of 3.1 mm. in glass, 6.7 mm. in lucite, and 8 mm. in tissue.

Safety Rules

If the following safety rules are followed, personnel radiation exposure will be as low as reasonably achievable.

  • Designate a specific area of the lab for P-32 handling.
  • Place the Plexiglas shield near a wall (not toward another work area on the other side of the bench) away from the main flow of traffic in the lab.
  • All persons in the laboratory should wear a whole body film badge when in the lab, even those who are not handling P-32.
  • All persons handling P-32 must wear a ring badge on the hand which is most frequently used to handle vials, samples, pipettes, etc. containing P-32.
  • Full-length lab coats must be worn by all persons who handle P-32.
  • Protect the skin of your hands from becoming contaminated by wearing two pairs of disposable gloves.
  • A Geiger counter must be in operation during the experiment, and preferably at all other times.
  • Place all vials and test tubes containing P-32 behind a 3/8" or 1/2" thick plexiglass shield.
  • Check the radiation level in front of the shield to determine if lead foil should be added to block out the x-rays (called bremstrahlung) formed by the beta particles interacting with the Plexiglas.
  • Do not work directly over an open container of P-32.
  • Never pipette P-32 by mouth.
  • Only use pipettes which have been dedicated to your specific use of P-32. Pipettes will easily become contaminated and therefore, should not be shared with others.
  • Use the Geiger Counter to check your gloves frequently for contamination.
  • If contamination is found, immediately dispose of the gloves in the P-32 Decay Storage radioactive waste container

Post-Use Procedures

After handling P-32:

  • Use the Geiger Counter to check your hands, shoes, clothing, work bench, floor, centrifuges, and water baths for contamination.
  • If any contamination is found on your shoes and/or clothing, contact the EH&S.
  • If any contamination is found on your hands, wash thoroughly with soap and water. This will usually be sufficient to remove the surface contamination. If it does not, contact EH&S for assistance.
  • If any contamination is found on the work bench, floor, or lab equipment, use a commercial radiation contamination remover (i.e. Count Off) with paper towels to clean up the equipment. Place the towels in the P-32 Decay Storage radioactive waste box.
  • If contamination cannot be removed, place a "radiation" label on the equipment indicating that it is P-32, maximum cpm found, and the date you measured the level. Contact EH&S.
  • If contamination cannot be removed from the floor, contact the Radiation Safety to obtain shielding materials.
  • Inform your fellow lab workers if any unremovable contamination is found.
  • Check the normal trash container to make sure no radioactive waste has been accidentally placed there.
  • Store the waste temporarily in plexiglass containers or other containers which are sufficient to absorb P-32's beta particles.
  • Call EH&S if you have any questions about where to survey.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after using P-32.
  • Do not let the waste pile up. EH&S picks up waste on a weekly basis. Call 829-3281 for waste pick up and delivery.

P-32 Detection

A tiny drop of contamination of P-32 can be easily detected with a Geiger Counter.