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Silver recovery danger?


Q. My friend works in the photo development industry and has been complaining for several months about being sick from the silver recovery machine saying that it is leaking toxic gas. When she informed her boss of this, her boss called her crazy. What information about the different types of fixers used in the development industry could you provide to support her position in this matter? Any help is much appreciated.

Brian R [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Porterdale, Georgia, United States

"Recovering Silver from
Photographic Materials"

by Eastman Kodak Co.

on AbeBooks

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A. You are talking about two different things.

Developing film requires fixers and other chemicals.

Recovery of silver involves different chemicals.

I can tell you that I used to ride my bicycle past a silver recovery plant in Linden, NJ, on my way to M&T Chemicals in Rahway NJ, in the 1980's, and I used to choke on my way when the wind was right (wrong?). I never found out what it was, but it was nasty.

Your friend should contact OSHA with the problem.

Most fixers in photographic use now contain either sodium chloride, hypochlorite, or hypochlorate. There are also some organics that are not usually fuming or aromatics, but could be aerosolized in the process.

For the sake of this, let's assume that they are recovering silver, as that would be the most logical material and the only reason that I know of to have a recovery unit anyways.

tom pullizzi animated    tomPullizziSignature
Tom Pullizzi
Falls Township, Pennsylvania


A. You don't say what the recovery unit is, but it is probably safe to assume that it is an electrolytic system that will likely have carbon or graphite electrodes, and some type of polyolefin high surface area for silver deposition. It is not unusual to have a degree of chlorine off-gassing from these units, and OSHA regulations do state that this must be scrubbed before release to the atmosphere. Also, there could be low levels of organics such as formalin or others that are put into the air by the off-gassing that occurs at the electrodes.

Tom is right - she has a right to contact OSHA immediately and ask for an investigation. These could have long term health effects, and the immediacy of the resolution should be of concern to her superiors.

tom baker
Tom Baker
wastewater treatment specialist - Warminster, Pennsylvania

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