Conserve O Gram
August 2004 Number 2/22
Disposal Of Cellulose Nitrate Film
Introduction • Nitrate film storage cabinets with a capac-
ity of 50 lbs. or more must be vented to the
Cellulose nitrate (“nitrate”) film was manu- outside of the building.
factured from about 1910-1950 for use as a
non-breakable, lightweight alternative to glass • Nitrate film storage cabinets with a capacity
plate photographic negatives. It was also used of 75 lbs. or more must be equipped with
as a motion picture film medium. Unfor- at least one automatic fire sprinkler head.
tunately, nitrate film is a severe fire safety
hazard. Once burning, a nitrate film fire is • Nitrate film collections in excess of 750 lbs.
very difficult to extinguish. Such fires release must be stored in approved vaults.
numerous toxic gases. Even when not on fire,
deteriorating nitrate film is hazardous. As it • New vaults must be equipped with a wet
breaks down, nitrate releases noxious gases that pipe fire suppression system.
can be dangerous to both people and other col-
lections. These are but a few of the many requirements
listed in NFPA 40. Compliance with this stan-
To slow down the deterioration process and dard can be very expensive. You must consider
protect other collections, museum staff rou- all potential costs. These include: new con-
tinely store original nitrate film in dedicated struction and renovation, as well as recurring
freezers, refrigerators, or cold storage vaults. expenses associated with maintenance, opera-
However, in accordance with Director’s Order tions, staffing, and monitoring.
#58: Structural Fire Management, nitrate film
in NPS collections must be housed according The Solution
to the standards prescribed by the National Fire
Protection Association (NFPA), most notably The four-step solution to eliminate these safety,
NFPA 40: Standard for the Storage and Han- image permanence, and storage issues is:
dling of Cellulose Nitrate Film, as well as accord-
ing to any relevant state and local regulations. 1. Identification: Identify nitrate film in your
collection using the techniques described
In addition to other requirements, NFPA 40 in Conserve O Gram 14/9 “Identification of
specifies that: Film Base Photographic Materials.”
• Nitrate film collections in excess of 25 lbs. 2. Reformatting: Reformat (copy) all nitrate
must be stored in approved cabinets or film in your collection onto modern poly-
vaults. ester-based film. Polyester photographic
National Park Service Conserve O Gram 2/22
film is safe, durable, and stable. Several tional information.
contractors provide reformatting services
for institutions that possess nitrate still and Disposal of Nitrate
motion picture film. (See “Reformatting
Contractors” below; also see Conserve O Because of its flammability, nitrate film is clas-
Gram 19/10 “Reformatting for Preserva- sified by the U.S. Department of Transporta-
tion and Access: Prioritizing Materials for tion as a hazardous material (HAZMAT). All
Duplication.”) hazardous materials offered for disposal are
considered hazardous waste. Such materials
3. Quality Control: After your film has been are subject to various Federal, State, and local
reformatted, conduct a quality control regulations. To dispose of nitrate film prop-
inspection of the copies (see Conserve O erly, contact your park’s HAZMAT/hazardous
Gram 19/13 “Preservation Reformatting: waste coordinator (who is probably a facility
Inspection of Copy Photographs”). The management employee). Your HAZMAT
NPS Museum Management Program coordinator can help you to arrange for proper
(MMP) utilizes the quality control criteria disposal using the services of a local hazardous
developed by the National Archives and waste collection and disposal firm. You can
Records Administration (NARA). Contact also contact your regional HAZMAT coordi-
the MMP for more information. nator, county waste office, or State hazardous
waste office for assistance. For a contact list
4. Disposal: Once you have reformatted your of various state hazardous waste offices, refer
original nitrate film (and have conducted to the EPA website at: <http://www.epa.gov/
your quality control inspection of the epaoswer/osw/stateweb.htm>
copies), properly dispose of the original
nitrates (see below). Remember: You do not need to deaccession
reformatted nitrate prior to disposal. Once
Note: Do not destroy original nitrate film you convert an image from nitrate onto
with unique and important artifactual, modern safety-base film, the safety-base image
intrinsic, informational, or evidential value replaces the nitrate image as the museum
(original negatives produced by Ansel object. The nitrate image automatically
Adams, images from Eleanor Roosevelt’s becomes a disposable copy; you can destroy it
collection, legal evidence, etc.). For addi- without having to first deaccession it. The one
tional information about these terms, exception would be for extremely rare instances
see Museum Handbook, Part II: Museum where an image’s original nitrate base has
Records, Appendix D: Museum Archives unique and important artifactual or intrinsic
and Manuscript Collections. value.
The vast majority of NPS nitrate collec- References
tions do not fall within these categories.
Consult with your SO/regional curator Bennett, Karen L. and Jessica S. Johnson.
and refer to the Museum Handbook, Part Conserve O Gram 14/9 “Identification of Film
I, Appendix M: Management of Cellulose Base Photographic Materials.” Washington,
Nitrate and Cellulose Ester Film, for addi- DC: National Park Service, 1999. Available
2 Disposal of Cellulose Nitrate Film
Conserve O Gram 2/22 National Park Service
on the web at: http://www.cr.nps.gov/museum/ National Fire Protection Association. NFPA
publications/conserveogram/14-09.pdf. 40: Standard for the Storage and Handling of
Cellulose Nitrate Film. Quincy, MA: National
Eastman Kodak Company. Safe Handling, Fire Protection Association, 2001.
Storage, and Destruction of Nitrate-Based Motion
Picture Films. Rochester, NY: Eastman Kodak Vogt-O’Connor, Diane. Conserve O Gram
Company, 1998. Available on the web at: http: 19/13 “Preservation Reformatting: Inspection
//www.kodak.com/country/US/en/motion/hse/ of Copy Photographs.” Washington, DC:
safeHandle1.jhtml#waste. National Park Service, 1995. Available on
the web at: http://www.cr.nps.gov/museum/
Environmental Protection Agency. Manag- publications/conserveogram/19-13.pdf.
ing Hazardous Waste in Your Community.
Washington, DC: Environmental Protection _____. Conserve O Gram 19/10 “Reformat-
Agency, 2000. Available on the web at: http: ting for Preservation and Access: Prioritizing
//www.epa.gov/epaoswer/general/manag-hw/ Materials for Duplication.” Washington, DC:
e00-001a.pdf. National Park Service, 1995. Available on
the web at: http://www.cr.nps.gov/museum/
______. State Hazardous Waste Contacts. publications/conserveogram/19-10.pdf.
Washington, DC: Environmental Protection
Agency, 2000. Available on the web at: http: _____. “Appendix M: Management of Cel-
//www.epa.gov/epaoswer/general/manag-hw/ lulose Nitrate and Cellulose Ester Film” in
e00-001b.pdf . Museum Handbook, Part I, Museum Col-
lections. Washington, DC: National Park
Floray, Steven P. et al. Conserve O Gram 2/20 Service, 1999. Available on the web at: http:
“Handling and Shipping Cellulose Nitrate //www.cr.nps.gov/museum/publications/MHI/
Film.” Washington, DC: National Park Ser- AppendM.pdf.
vice, 2003. Available on the web at: http:
Environmental Protection Agency:
Health and Safety Executive, United King-
dom. The Dangers of Cellulose Nitrate Film. 1. Hazardous Waste Program: http://
Caerphilly, United Kingdom: Health and www.epa.gov/epaoswer/osw/hazwaste.htm.
Safety Executive, 2003. On the web at: http:
//www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/cellulose.pdf. 2. Contact list of state hazardous waste
Knapp, Tony and Diane Vogt-O’Connor. stateweb.htm.
Conserve O Gram 14/8 “Caring for Cellulose
Nitrate Film.” Washington, DC: National 3. RCRA Online, The Resource Conserva-
Park Service, 2004. Available on the web at: tion and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA):
Disposal of Cellulose Nitrate Film 3
National Park Service Conserve O Gram 2/22
U. S. Department of Transportation,
HAZMAT Safety: http://hazmat.dot.gov.
Bono Film and Video
3200 Lee Highway
Arlington, VA 22207
Chicago Albumen Works
PO Box 805
174 Front Street
Housatonic, MA 01236
Northeast Document Conservation Center
100 Brickstone Square
Andover, MA 01810
Steven P. Floray
National Park Service
Museum Management Program
Washington, DC 20240
The Conserve O Gram series is published as a reference on collections The series is distributed to all NPS units and is available to
management and curatorial issues. Mention of a product, a man- non-NPS institutions and interested individuals on line at
ufacturer, or a supplier by name in this publication does not con- <http://www.cr.nps.gov/museum/publications/conserveogram/
stitute an endorsement of that product or supplier by the National cons_toc.html>. For further information and guidance
Park Service. Sources named are not all inclusive. It is suggested concerning any of the topics or procedures addressed in the
that readers also seek alternative product and vendor information series, contact NPS Museum Management Program, 1849 C
in order to assess the full range of available supplies and equipment. Street NW (2265), Washington, DC 20240; (202) 354-2000.
4 Disposal of Cellulose Nitrate Film