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Subject: Nitrate


From: Erich Kesse <erikess>
Date: Tuesday, July 31, 1990
For the best up-to-date information on hazards of cellulose nitrate film
the following may be your best contacts:

* OSHA State Consultation Service (Texas): Occupational Safety & Health
  Division.  Tel.: 512.458.7254.

* Texas. Bureau of Environmental Health. Department of Health.  Tel.:

* TexCOSH (Texas Committee on Occupational Safety and Health). c/o Karyl
  Dunson, 5735 Regina, Beaumont, TX 77706.  Tel.: 409.898.1427.

* Center for Safety in the Arts, 5 Beekman Street, Suite 1030, New York,
  NY 10038.  Tel.: 212.227.6220.

  (I could not find references to cellulose nitrate in the Center's
  publications list.)

Also consult American National Standards Institute/National Fire
Protection Association standard ANSI/NFPA 40-1982.  (Available form the
Association, Batterymarch Park, Quincy, MA 02269)  Chapter outline is as

  Ch.1 ..... General Information.
  Ch.2 ..... Construction Requirements and Arrangements of Buildings.
  Ch.3 ..... Fire Protection.
  Ch.4 ..... Storage of Nitrate Film.
  Ch.5 ..... Handling of Nitrate Film.
  Ch.6 ..... Motion Picture Projection and Special Processes.
  Ch.7 ..... Special Occupancies.

Other bibliographic information:

Exact title: Standard for the Storage and Handling of Cellulose Nitrate
    Motion Picture Film.


    "Cellulose nitrate contains chemically combined oxygen, sufficient
    in amount so that it can partially burn or decompose without the
    presence of air.  The gases formed during burning or decomposition
    are both toxic and flammable and may be produced so rapidly as to
    create dangerous pressures in building structures and severe hazard
    to life."  Off gases formed during burning or decomposition are
    oxides of nitrogen.  "When a single layer of cellulose nitrate film
    is ignited and allowed to burn freely in excess air, it burns with a
    bright yellow flame.  The gases given off are colorless and are
    chiefly nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and water vapor, none of which is
    poisonous or explosive.  If, however, the air supply is restricted
    ... the film burns with or without flame, producing copious
    quantities of thick, yellow smoke.  These gases are extremely
    poisonous and may for explosive mixtures with air. ... Traces of
    hydrogen cyanide have also been detected, but not in significant

Other detected gases include: nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, nitrogen
tetroxide, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, oxygen, hydrogen, and
methane."  (Much of this information was compiled in 1929.) "Any duct
system used for air conditioning a film vault or room in which nitrate
film is handled shall be entirely independent with no duct connecting to
any other vault."  No rationale is given though the standard seems to be
equally concerned with off-gassing as with explosion. The standard
appears to recommend use of water or water solutions to extinguish fire
resultant from burning nitrate film. In Florida, disposal of nitrate
film in any format requires special govern- mental notifications and
disposal processes. Transportation of nitrate film must comply with U.S.
Department of Transportation regulations. Risk of fire is apparently
dependent upon temperature and age of film.

Additional references:

    Eastman Kodak Company. Hazard in the handling and storage of nitrate
       and safety motion picture film.

    Cummings, J.W. "Spontaneous ignition of decomposing cellulose
       nitrate film." Journal of the Society of Motion Picture and
       Television Engineers. 54 (March 1950), p.268-274.

Sorry I haven't anything more recent.

Erich J. Kesse
Preservation Office
University of Florida Libraries
Fax: 904-392-7251

                   Conservation DistList Instance 4:9
                  Distributed: Tuesday, August 7, 1990
                        Message Id: cdl-4-9-002
Received on Tuesday, 31 July, 1990

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