Friday, June 27, 2008

Environmental & Safety Issues

Many photographic solutions have high chemical and biological oxygen demand (COD and BOD). These chemical wastes are often treated with ozone, peroxide or aeration to reduce the COD.

Exhausted fixer and to some extent rinse water contain silver-thiosulfate complex ions. They are far less toxic than free silver ion, and they become silver sulfide sludge in the sewer pipes or treatment plant. However, the maximum silver concentration in discharge is very often tightly regulated. Silver is also a somewhat precious resource. Therefore, in most large scale processing establishments, exhausted fixer is collected for silver recovery and disposal.

Many photographic chemicals use non-biodegradable compounds, such as EDTA, DTPA, NTA and borate. EDTA, DTPA, and NTA are very often used as chelating agents in all processing solutions, particularly in developers and washing aid solutions. EDTA and other polyamine polycarboxylic acids are used as iron ligands in color bleach solutions. These are relatively nontoxic, and in particular EDTA is approved as a food additive. However, due to poor biodegradability, these chelating agents are found in alarmingly high concentrations in some water sources from which municipal tap water is taken. Water containing these chelating agents can leach metal from water treatment equipment as well as pipes. This is becoming an issue in Europe and some parts of the world.

Another non-biodegradable compound in common use is surfactant. A common wetting agent for even drying of processed film uses Union Carbide/Dow Triton X-100 or octylphenol ethoxylate. This surfactant is also found to have estrogenic effect and possibly other harms to organisms including mammals.

Development of more biodegradable alternatives to the EDTA and other bleaching agent constituents were sought by major manufacturers, until the industry became less profitable when the digital era began.

In most amateur darkrooms, a popular bleach is potassium hexacyanoferrate (III) (common name potassium ferricyanide). This compound decomposes in the waste water stream to liberate cyanide gas. Other popular bleach solutions use potassium dichromate (a hexavalent chromium) or permanganate. Both ferricyanide and dichromate are tightly regulated for sewer disposal. In order to meet the regulation, the solution must be diluted 20 000 (twenty thousand) times or more. All of these popular black and white bleaches are damaging to the environment, and should be replaced with any of the existing eco-friendly alternatives.

Borates, such as borax (sodium tetraborate), boric acid and sodium metaborate, are toxic to plants, even at a concentration of 100 ppm. Many film developers and fixers contain 1 to 20 g/L of these compounds at working strength. Most non-hardening fixers from major manufacturers are now borate-free, but many film developers still use borate as the buffering agent. Also, some, but not all, alkaline fixer formulas and products contain a large amount of borate. New products should phase out borates, because for most photographic purposes, except in acid hardening fixers, borates can be substituted with a suitable biodegradable compound.

Developing agents are commonly hydroxylated benzene compounds or aminated benzene compounds, and they are harmful to humans and experimental animals. Some are mutagens. They also have a large chemical oxygen demand (COD). Ascorbic acid and its isomers, and other similar sugar derived reductone reducing agents are a viable substitute for many developing agents. Developers using these compounds were actively patented in the US, Europe and Japan, until 1990s but the number of such patents is very low since late-1990s, when the digital era began.

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