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Worker 11811
03-06-2010, 11:29 AM
That's correct....the nitrate film is VERY inflammable and needs no oxygen to continue burning once lit. It also decays readily and becomes very unstable.

Nitrate film can even burn while submerged under water. Once ignited, nitrate film can not be put out by normal means. IRRC, the only chemical that can extinguish it is carbon tetrachloride. That produces toxic gas. (Cyanide ?) So, if you have a nitrate film fire, you're basically screwed. The only thing you can do, really, is to contain the fire by isolating it and letting it burn out. (Assuming you can do that without the rest of your building burning down in the process.)

To make it worse, nitrate film's decomposition is autocatalytic. In other words, the byproducts of decomposition will cause the film to degrade faster and faster the more they build up.

And, finally, yes, nitrate film can spontaneously combust. However, it doesn't just burst into flames for no reason. It has to decompose for quite a while before it can self ignite. It has to reach a sustained temperature of over 100 F (38 C) before it will catch fire. So, while it can be dangerous, it's not exactly like a bomb waiting to go off.

That having been said, I would not keep nitrate film in my house! I believe standard practice is to have it duplicated. If the nitrate original is important enough where it must be preserved, it should be stored some place safe. If it is not important it should be destroyed after it is duplicated.

I have worked in movie theaters for just a little over 15 years, now and I have only seen nitrate film one time. That was during a demonstration about nitrate film and its dangers. I have never come across it in actual practice.

In some jurisdictions it is not legal to bring nitrate film into a projection room which is not specifically outfitted for its use. That's why you often see signs that say, "Safety Film Only" on the doors to projection rooms.

Kodak's website has lots of good information on the storage and handling of nitrate film: http://motion.kodak.com/US/en/motion/Support/Technical_Information/Storage/storage_nitrate.htm

Erik Petersson
03-06-2010, 03:01 PM
Film from the early 1940:ies features in a recent Hollywood movie, Inglourious basterds. I should not write more, not to spoil the fun for those who have not seen the movie. In any case, it it used metaphorically, to the effect that film, not pen, is mightier than sword.

Worker 11811
03-06-2010, 03:36 PM
I get a lot of questions about nitrate film because of that movie!

If only we could have a movie which features Kodachrome in such a fashion that it makes people ask so many questions about it!

EASmithV
03-06-2010, 10:17 PM
My grandfather just recently gave me his Kodak Retina II from the WWII. He also gave me his camera bag and inside it is a roll of exposed 35mm Ansco color film in its aluminum/steel canister. My guess is that the film is from the 50's or maybe 60's. I am in a photography class and really want to develop it. Anybody know what the developer would be? Would it just be regular C-41?

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO

DO NOT DO THAT

Stand dev in rodinal

alanrockwood
03-06-2010, 11:10 PM
... the only chemical that can extinguish it is carbon tetrachloride. That produces toxic gas. (Cyanide ?) ...

Nope! Phosgene.

Worker 11811
03-06-2010, 11:27 PM
Thanks. :)

AgX
03-07-2010, 02:05 AM
Once ignited, nitrate film can not be put out by normal means. IRRC, the only chemical that can extinguish it is carbon tetrachloride. The only thing you can do, really, is to contain the fire by isolating it and letting it burn out.

The only advised means for extinguishing burning cellulosenitrate is sprayed water.

Other means which could lead to seclude the burning cellulosenitrate from air (oxygen) as fire fighting foam are strongly rejected as they can lead to production of toxic gaseous nitrogen oxides!

(In that Kodak document you linked to, is repeatedly referred at "ceiling water sprinklers" as safety means.)