Answer to Question #6254 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"
The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:
We switched to using a salt substitute in our home several months ago, and I just discovered that it might contain radioactive potassium. I am very concerned because we run a hot-water vaporizer everyday and we had been adding salt to the water in order to help with steam formation. When we switched to salt substitute, we began adding that to the water instead. My question is whether this has put my family at risk from breathing the vapor. Also, I wonder if this has created an issue that I should address in terms of cleaning the apartment to protect my family and potentially even the people who will live here later. Should I notify anyone about this?
There is no need for concern about the radioactivity in potassium. All potassium is radioactive. Natural potassium contains a small quantity of the isotope potassium-40, which is radioactive. And since all foods that we eat contain potassium, and potassium is essential to life, our bodies naturally contain a tiny amount of radioactive potassium. The dose from this tiny amount of radioactive potassium in our bodies is small and cannot be avoided. The additional dose you incur from using potassium-containing salt substitute is trivial, if any, since excess potassium will be excreted from your body normally. The vapor from the hot-water vaporizer is essentially pure water and poses absolutely no radiation hazard. And there is no need to clean or decontaminate your apartment or furniture as it has not been contaminated with potassium-40. So don't worry about the radioactivity from potassium—it is not a problem. But, since potassium salt substitute is more expensive than ordinary table salt, you may want to consider using ordinary table salt in the water rather than potassium salt substitute as a cost-saving measure.
Ronald L. Kathren, CHP
Answer posted on 9 March 2007. The information and material posted on this website is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may alter the concepts and applications of materials and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice specific to whatever facts and circumstances are presented in any given situation. Answers are correct at the time they are posted on the Website. Be advised that over time, some requirements could change, new data could be made available, or Internet links could change. For answers that have been posted for several months or longer, please check the current status of the posted information prior to using the responses for specific applications.
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