Tritium was first discovered in 1934 by three guys; Mark Oliphant, Paul Harteck, and Ernest Rutherford. You might already know that tritium is a radioactive hydrogen isotope that is usually used in research, fusion reactors, and neutron generators. But, we are not here to dig into the rocket science kind of stuff.
Rather, we will be discussing how tritium is used for night sights on rifles and whether it is safe to use them.
Keep in mind that tritium offers self-powered lighting devices called the beta light, and it can do such an amazing job on your rifle.
So, are tritium night sights dangerous? Let’s explore that together, shall we?
The Myth about tritium night sights
You might have heard it around or read it on firearm sights forums about how the night sights are harmful to your health. Some people claim that since the tritium sights are radioactive hydrogen isotope, they will be harmful to your health. A lot of people claim that these radioactive devices can affect your reproductive system and damage your DNA.
Radioactive content is known to be dangerous, but in the case of tritium sights, they are not harmful at all. However, it isn’t the same case when it comes to tritium sights.
The Reality about tritium night sights
Are tritium sights safe? A direct answer to that is yes, they are safe. This is also according to the Health Physics Society, where the health experts state that tritium sights don’t have enough potency to change the DNA in the body.
It can only happen if the radioactive content in the sight is high and if they are ingested or inhaled in large amounts.
The reason for this is that the skin is a solid barrier that will prevent the DNA and other cells to be exposed to the radioactive content. It could also happen if the skin is broken. For instance, if the user has a damaged skin or wound, the radioactive content can affect the cells and DNA.
With tritium molecules, they can only travel 6mm in the air before they lose their radioactive charge. So, if they are used away from the body, it makes them even safer.
Keep in mind that tritium is an energetic electron that is ejected from the H-3 nucleus. When H-3 decays, it converts into helium-3 that contains two protons and a single neutron. This decayed tritium is not radioactive. Also, the decayed (weak) beta particle from the tritium contains a very low penetration power. Technically, it cannot penetrate even through a sheet of paper.
are tritium night sights safe?
So yes, tritium night sights are safe to use with your firearm. Nevertheless, there could be some exposure risk if the night sight or tritium devices are damaged. As a result, you need to be careful when carrying the tritium. Ideally, ensure that you keep it safely in a proper case or holster.
Keep in mind that tritium can easily bond with water, and it travels in the water effortlessly. Tritium also exists in the environment as both a man-made and a naturally occurring substance. Since it contains watery composition, it usually presents and untraceable in the human body.
Most tritium is a nuclear industry by-product, whether it is weapon or energy-oriented. This is as a result of the cosmic rays that land on earth.
Tritium is naturally and unavoidably emitted into the air with the current technologies. As a result of nuclear fission, tritium will then flow into the waterways of the earth. In the US, luckily, the air and water surrounding the weapons and nuclear power are closely monitored. The reason for this is to ensure that the levels are considered minor and ‘safe’.
Another way of neutralizing tritium is to dilute it in water. Tritium on its own is composed of three hydrogen atoms. In other words, it is chemically known as H-3, which easily blends into water (H20).
Tritium on its own doesn’t have the glowing effects. So, how does it glow in the dark, forever? What happens is that tritium will combine with phosphorus, where the phosphorus molecules will be stimulated to glow for a while. Yes, you have heard that tritium sights glow forever, but that’s not exactly the case. They will glow for a while, and start dimming down as you use them.
Tritium usually has an average life of around 12,5 years, which is relatively long compared to other types of night sights, like Truglo. The tritium that is released into the waterways and atmosphere from above-ground nuclear testing is inert and basically harmless.
The California Proposition 65 List toxin warns on the tritium night sight packaging. If tritium is harmless, why the warning? Well, the Prop 65 List includes several chemicals that are associated with cancer and birth defects. This doesn’t specifically mean that tritium is harmful. Rather, an online study has shown that typically all products with components like plastic, metallurgic coatings, paint, and aluminum all have this warning. The main aim of the warning is to ensure the products stay California compliant.
Generally, the warning label is a must, since excess exposure to the components can be lethal to human health.
What you need to remember when handling the tritium night sights is not to lick them or mash them up. As usual, make sure you keep them away from kids.
Related Question ( FAQs )
How dangerous is tritium?
Tritium on its own is not dangerous. It doesn’t contain chemically toxic effects. However, the only thing that makes tritium to be potentially hazardous to human health emits ionizing radiation. The beta particle, ionizing radiation, exposure can slightly increase the chances of a person developing cancer over time.
How long do tritium night sights last?
The average lifespan of a tritium night sight is between 10 and 20 years. Remember that tritium is an unstable isotope with a half-life of 12.32 years. The beta emissions will go down by half in that period. In other words, the brightness of the tritium night sight will reduce as you use it over the years.
How long do AmerGlo night sights last?
The AmeriGlo Trijicon front and rear night have a tiny sealed, glass tritium glass, and its guaranteed lifetime is 12 years.
Are tritium sights worth it?
These sights are specifically designed for a low light scenario, and not specifically in a no-light shooting. If you consider the fact that these sights are long-lasting, and they are self-generated, you can rely on their delivery. Best of all, they are safe to use.
Do tritium sights wear out?
Yes, the glowing level of the tritium night sights will fade as you use them over the years. Specifically, they will become twice less bright after 10+ years.