Long considered the most dangerous properties
of aging nitrate film are its volatile characteristics. Recently, the danger of
allowing contact between decomposing cellulose nitrate and nearby materials in storage
is attracting attention. Gaseous by-products of deteriorating cellulose nitrate
film will damage adjacent photographic materials, specifically nearby silver gelatin
photographs (Hendriks, 1984:39). So we take care to prevent the interaction of decomposing
cellulose nitrate with nearby susceptible objects. Yet chemical products of deteriorating
negatives can be dangerous to individuals as well as to objects.
The Arizona State Museum recently completed a photo duplication project involving
nearly 8000 nitrate and diacetate negatives ranging in age from 50 to 60 years.
Personal injuries occurring during the project were linked to the handling of the
An employee cataloguing the film materials suffered eye irritation, rashes,
and sores on the face and skin. Breathing became labored following several hours
of exposure to the negatives and associated storage materials. Contact lenses worn
while working the materials discolored and turned brittle. An ophthalmologist reported
them to be chemically contaminated.
The project photography technician experienced skin irritation, vertigo, nausea,
headache, and swollen glands during the processes of sorting and duplicating the
deteriorating negatives. Irritation diminished within 24 hours. In one instance
however, respiratory difficulties remained for three days following exposure to