16. “Radioactive Smoke Detectors”

by Project Censored
Published: Last Updated on

The potential danger of radioactive smoke detectors was nominated as a “best censored” story last year. It is being renominated since there is still a dearth of coverage on the subject and because of the continued widespread sale and distribution of this type of smoke alarm.

The radioactive, or ionized, detector contains Americium-241, a toxic substance which accumulates in the tissue of humans and plants. Once ingested, Americium moves from the gastrointestinal tract into the bloodstream causing liver and bone cancer.

Americium has a radioactive half life of 460 years.

If one of these smoke detectors is damaged in the home, there is potential danger to the resident. Experts are still not aware of the hazards of radio­activity to workers or firemen when fighting fires.

The detectors themselves have a life of about 15 years, and the manufacturers request owners to return the detectors to them for transmittal to an official nuclear waste disposal site.

However, it is generally agreed that few of the owners of radioactive smoke detectors will observe this warning which is printed on the detector itself:

The continuing sale and distribution of radioactive smoke detectors and the media’s failure to alert the public of the potential hazards of the detector qualifies this story for nomination as one of the “best censored” stories of 1978.


Progressive, May, 1978, p. 11, “Smoke Detector Dangers.”

Progressive, August, 1977, p. 22, “Caution: Smoke Detectors May Be Dangerous to Your Health.”

New West, August 28, 1978, p. 87, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” by Kathy McManus.