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Subject: Nitrate film and safety

Nitrate film and safety

From: Loren Charles Pigniolo <lorenp>
Date: Sunday, February 6, 1994
For Laraine Daly Jones, Sharlane Grant wrote

>What safety measures are observed (or recommended) for working with
>large nitrate film collections

I have personally handled over 15,000 nitrate and acetate negatives in
various stages of deterioration.  I have not experienced any major
problems, but regularly ventilate my working area with two fans placed
for best cross-ventilation.  I believe there are no set regulations for
working with deteriorating negatives.  A 1986 study (see bibliography)
found that the chemical by-products of the deteriorating cellulosic
base(s) were *individually* well below OSHA regulated levels; though
individual workers sometimes had rather severe reactions to the
*combination* of contaminants.

The worst problem I experienced was not with cellulose nitrate films,
but with heavily deteriorating acetate sheet films.  I had fans on the
high setting for cross-ventilation (because of eye irritation, annoying
smell and mild difficulty breathing)  and experienced occasional mild
stinging on my fingers *through* cotton gloves.  I also had to keep
containers of negatives that I was not currently working with on another
table well away from my desk.  I do place limitations on the time I
spend working with deteriorating negatives--not because of physical
health, but because of mental health.  Processing these materials can be
so boring I place a limit of 1 to 1.5 hours of work maximum before
taking a mandatory break.  My maximum work time with negatives is
ideally 3 hours per day, but when the need arises, I set an absolute
maximum of 5 hours.  Time limits should be set by what an individual can
*comfortably* tolerate physically and mentally.

During a visit to the National Archives of Canada Still Picture Division
in 1982, I noticed they were using a portable fume extractor with
flexible arms.  They told me this was recently purchased because of
problems experienced by one of their workers.  She, being particularly
sensitive, had to wear latex gloves and use the fume extractor in order
to work with deteriorating negatives safely.  An implication here is
that (legally) because a particular worker is more sensitive to
contaminants than someone else, you cannot just take that task away but
must make it safe for the worker--regardless of the levels of

The following information is taken from a report I recently prepared for
a client that had a substantial collection of cellulosic negatives.  As
I have mentioned above, the level of protection should be appropriate to
the sensitivity of the individual.  I do believe, however, that there is
a minimum level of protection that should always be used regardless of
an individual's apparent sensitivity to deteriorating negatives.  I
would have everyone working with such materials remove contact lenses
and be required to use a fume extractor or work with two fans.  The fans
should be placed such that one fan brings fresh uncontaminated air into
the worker's immediate breathing area and the other pushes contaminated
air away from the worker's breathing area.  Again, more protection may
be required depending on an individual's sensitivity.

Note: Be aware that wearing latex gloves can cause a rash in some
individuals. Others may develop a rash from latex only after repeated
regular use.


General Precautions:

    Use a fume extractor, wear a respirator, or provide strong cross
    ventilation when working with deteriorating cellulosic films. Latex
    gloves may be required for sensitive individuals.

Health and Safety Issues

    Deteriorating cellulose ester base negatives can be hazardous to
    your health!  Not all individuals are sensitive to these materials;
    however, caution is advised.  See bibliography for reference.

Possible effects:

    *   Eye irritation
    *   Skin irritation, rashes and/or sores
    *   Difficulty breathing
    *   Nausea
    *   Headache
    *   Vertigo
    *   Swollen glands
    *   Discolored and embrittled contact lenses

Protection for Workers/Researchers:


    Remove contact lenses when working with deteriorating negatives.

    Wash hands frequently; especially before eating or touching eyes or


    Built-in or portable fume evacuator with positionable arms or
    desktop fumehood (filtration for acid gases if air recycled) or
    portable fans positioned to push gases away from worker's breathing
    zone. Or

    Acid gas canister half-mask respirator or acid gas disposable
    respirator. with Portable fan(s) positioned to push gases away from
    worker's face (if possible).

        *** Please note that instead of an acid gas type filter for
        respirators/fume extractors, an acid gas/organic vapor filter is
        probably a better choice.

    And latex or other tight fitting rubber/plastic gloves if necessary.
    Limit exposure time as necessary.

Regulating Agencies:

    Cal OSHA (see Appendix C)  [see below for Arizona info]

Appendix C--Bibliography/Supplies

Selected Bibliography--Negative Materials

    Calhoun, J.M. "Storage of nitrate amateur still-camera film
        negatives." Journal of the Biological Photographic Association.
        21 (3) 1953: 1-13.

    Carroll, J.F.; Calhoun, J.M. "Effect of nitrogen oxide gases on
        processed acetate film." Journal of the Society of Motion
        Picture and Television Engineers. 64 (September) 1955: 501-507.

    Cummings, J.W.; Hutton, A.C.; Silfin, H. "Spontaneous ignition of
        decomposing cellulose nitrate film." Journal of the Society of
        Motion Picture and Television Engineers. 54 (March) 1950:

    Hendriks, Klaus "The stability and preservation of recorded images"
        Chapter 20 in Imaging Processes and Materials. Van
        Nostrand/Reinholdt, 1989.

    Hendriks, Klaus, et. al. "The duplication of historical
        black-and-white negatives." Journal of Imaging Technology. 12
        (4) 1986: 185-199.

    Hendriks, Klaus; Lesser, Brian. "Disaster preparedness and recovery:
        photographic materials." American Archivist. 46 (1) 1983: 52-68.

    *Hollinshead, Patricia W., et. al. Deteriorating negatives: a health
        hazard in collection management. The Arizona State Museum. 1986.

    Horvath, David G. The acetate negative survey: final report.
        University of Louisville, Ekstrom Library, Photographic
        Archives, Louisville, KY 40292. February 1987.

    Krause, Peter. "Preservation of autochrome plates in the collection
        of the National Geographic Society." Journal of Imaging Science.
        29 (5) 1985: 182-192.

    Maurer, J.A.; Bach, W. "The shrinkage of acetate-base motion picture
        films." Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers. 31
        (July-December) 1938: 15-27.

    National Fire Protection Association. Standard for storage and
        handling of cellulose nitrate motion picture film, 1974. Boston:
        National Fire Protection Association. (NFPA no.40).

    Public Archives of Canada. Picture Conservation Division. Care of
        black-and-white photographic negatives on film. Ottawa: Canadian
        Conservation Institute, 1986. (CCI notes; no. 16/2)

    Reilly, et al. IPI storage guide for acetate film. Image Permanence
        Institute, Rochester Institute of Technology, Frank E. Gannett
        Memorial Building, POB 9887, Rochester, NY, 14623-0887. 1983.
        [phone 716-475-5199; fax 716-475-7230]

Safety Supplies/Information

1.  Lab Safety Supply, Inc.
    PO Box 1368
    Janesville, WI 53547-1368
    Ask for their catalog.

    Customer Service: 1-800-356-0722
    Phone Orders:     1-800-356-0783
    Fax Orders:       1-800-543-9910
    Safety TechLine:  1-800-356-2501 (product and compliance questions)

2.  California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal-OSHA)

    See local phone book for number of nearest regional office.  They
    will provide information on health and safety compliance free of
    charge.  They will come to your site and inspect for compliance free
    of charge.  These services are NOT related to their enforcement

3.  In Arizona the number to contact for the compliance survey is
    602-524-5795.  This is also the Area OSHA office for your State.

4.  The Occupational Safety and Health Bulletin Board System (OSHBBS)
    1200/2400 Baud. 24 hours a day. Data: 212-385-2034; voice:
    212-227-6220. Sysop: Michael McCann. Asst. sysop: Nathan Letts.

5.  There is a bitnet mailing list I recently discovered called SAFETY
    that may be of interest.  To subscribe send a message to:
    listserv [at] uvmvm__bitnet with the message:  subscribe safety your name.
    You will receive a message confirming your subscription and giving
    you quite a bit of information on using this list.

Finally, I want to recommend the use of cotton gloves when handling
photographic materials--unless you need greater skin protection from
deterioration by-products or you need greater handling ability such as when
printing or duplicating.  In these latter cases I would recommend latex or
other tight fitting flexible gloves or the use of finger cots.


Loren C. Pigniolo
Photographic Preservation Specialist
Photographic Preservation Services
1044 Judah Street #1 San Francisco, CA 94122-2052
800-484-9808 x7841
Fax: 415-665-1827 (Please call before faxing)

                  Conservation DistList Instance 7:58
                Distributed: Thursday, February 10, 1994
                        Message Id: cdl-7-58-009
Received on Sunday, 6 February, 1994

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