There has been changes in Celluloid legislation which are taking effect in April 2013. One measure being removed is the Celluloid and Cinematograph Film Act of 1922. This measure is being removed because it has been overtaken by more recent regulations. The HSE has produced an online publication with guidance and ways of working with celluloid nitrate film so it is handled and disposed of safely.
Nitrate film was first produced as a photographic film base (and for use in stills) in the 1880’s. Projection room fires were not uncommon and resulted in many deaths. The older the nitrate film gets the more flammable it becomes. Upon catching fire this film emits poisonous gases (including nitrogen dioxide fumes). Nitrate film can auto-ignite, and, because this type of film contains large amounts of oxygen, these fires can be very difficult to extinguish. Under the right conditions and increases in temperature, this film can self ignite at 38 Celsius and cause an explosion.
Because of the amount of oxygen this film contains, immersing it in water may not put the flames out. Nitrate collections are usually stored separately and in different fireproof rooms to prevent their destruction. Nitrate film is described of as “dangerous goods” and theatres using it today must comply with rigorous safety measures and obtain a special licence. No Kodak film has contained nitrate since 1951.
Handling Cellulose Nitrate film
- cellulose nitrate film should be handled with extreme caution, and kept well away of any sources of heat, including light bulbs
- it should be handled with protected gloves and eye goggles, with and easy escape route in the building
- film should not be run through a projector as is can catch fire simply from the friction of winding over the projector sprockets
- one can tell if nitrate film is degrading as it will be amber in color and quite soft to the touch
- it should not be couriered by post, disposed of in local waste or carried on public transport as it may auto-ignite
- the local environmental department should be contacted to dispose of nitrate film
- if the film is not too far degraded, a special laboratory can digitise the film and then the original can be disposed of safely
- if short term storage is necessary (eg while waiting for a professional handler), it needs to be stored within a temperature of less than 20 Celsius, away from habitable buildings and away from from acidic materials (eg paper, textiles)
Some of the laws that brought about this measure (i.e the Cinematograph Film Act of 1922) to be removed include the Employment Act 1989, Factories Act 1961, and the Criminal Justice Act 1982, amongst others.
The Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR), CAD (Chemical Agents Directive 98/24/EC) and ATEX (Atmospheres Directive 99/92/EC), amongst other regulations and laws, now, are the main directives in place of the Cinematograph Film Act of 1922.