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Are any dark room chemicals (or processing steps) flammable?

Carl Follstad , Apr 25, 2010; 11:07 p.m.

I know this seems like an odd question but the ventilation in our club's darkroom needs to be specifically reworked if any of our processing chemicals are flammable. I checked the back of the BW Ilford chemistry I have laying around and it doesn't have any such warning. Gut feel tells me it's not an issue but I want to toss out the question here.

There will be no unconventional (like Nitrate-based) films processed here. Just BW, C41 and E6 modern emulsions.

Thank you!


Stephen Lewis , Apr 26, 2010; 12:00 a.m.

None that I'm aware of in either stock solution or properly diluted. Can't speak for somebody randomly pouring some of those chemicals together just to see what happens, however.

Bob Sunley , Apr 26, 2010; 12:42 a.m.

About the only flammable chemical in a dark room is film cleaner, like PEC12. All processing chemicals are water based and are non flammable. Well the paper is, but that doesn't count. :)

Oh, some of the new canned air is flammable. Best is to just look at the labels on what you have, current labelling laws are quite good.

Louie Powell , Apr 26, 2010; 07:22 a.m.

Ordinary darkroom chemicals are not flamable.

That said, occasionally you will hear or read about the use of unusual chemicals in the darkroom that can be a fire hazard. For example, some older publications suggested using alcohol for the final rinse when processing film. The logic was that alcohol would displace water in the emulsion, and then would evaporate rapidly leading to faster drying. Apparently, this was a practice that was used in some newspaper darkrooms many years ago.

And there are reports that W. Eugene Smith believed strongly that one of the most important chemicals in his darkroom was a bottle of scotch.

John O'Keefe-Odom , Apr 26, 2010; 09:47 a.m.

Check out your MSDS for those solutions.

You won't see Hollywood action movie heroes running away from a forty foot tall tower of flame caused by 500mL of fixer. I promise.

John O'Keefe-Odom , Apr 26, 2010; 09:54 a.m.

Generally speaking, I would avoid the use of the word "flammable" in safety discussions about materials. Social misuse of the words "flammable" and "inflammable" have become so common that the words are almost meaningless. Just check the data tables for the flash point and other heat and vapor related info.

John O'Keefe-Odom , Apr 26, 2010; 10:12 a.m.

Working in a household darkroom is about as safe as doing stuff in a kitchen or garage. Historically, there are probably many more catastrophic incidents related to home cooking or home auto mechanics than there are to darkroom work.

That doesn't stop people from using stoves and cars, but inflated fears of the unknown for some reason cause people to worry about wet darkrooms. Get the facts instead. MSDS.

If you consider the number of people who burn their houses down with grease fires every year, against the number of deaths and property damage caused by developing film (probably none to negligible), then I think you might see just how much fear of science inflates our concerns about lab safety.

13 people a year are killed in incidents involving just about any kind of common household appliance you can name. Garage door openers, blenders, TV sets: someone, somehow manages to have a lethal incident somehow involving those items.

Developing film is about as dangerous as library card use.

Then again, the library card may be more hazardous.

This is why I say go to MSDS. The safety advice there is based on fact and practical emergency problem solving experience.

Steve Levine , Apr 26, 2010; 10:38 a.m.

Almost all darkroom chemicals are considered hazardous if inhaled or ingested in either their dry, or mixed states. But they aren't generally combustible.

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