Chemistry Safety

On the whole, most of black-and white chemistry is pretty safe, in moderation. However, the wise individual will pay close attention to advice on handling chemistry, and take steps to protect oneself.

Most safety procedures are pretty much common sense, but it never hurts to spell them out. The following list is by Robert Hirsch, published in Photographic Possibilities: The Expressive Use of Ideas, Materials, and Processes, 3rd edition (© 2008, Robert Hirsch, Focal Press, ISBN:978-0240810133) and is both copyrighted and used by permission.

  1. 1. Read and follow all instructions and safety recommendations provided by the manufacturer before undertaking any process. This includes mixing, handling, disposal, and storage. Request a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) from the manufacturer of photo chemicals. Collect these in a loose-leaf binder and keep it where someone can find it in an emergency.
  2. 2. Become familiar with all inherent dangers associated with any chemicals being used. when acquiring chemicals, ask about proper handling and safety precautions.
  3. 3. Know the antidote for the chemical you are using. Prominently display the telephone number for poison control and emergency treatment centers in your working area and near the telephone.
  4. 4. Many chemicals are flammable. Keep them away from any source of heat or open flame to avoid a possible explosion or fire. Keep a fire extinguisher that can be used for both chemical and electrical fires in the work area.
  5. 5. Work in a well-ventilated space. Hazardous chemicals should be mixed under a vented hood or outside.
  6. 6. Protect yourself. Wear gloves rated to be chemical proof, safety glasses, and a plastic apron. Use a disposable face mask or respirator when mixing chemicals or if you have had any previous allergic reaction. If you have any type of reaction, consult a physician immediately and suspend work with all photographic processes.
  7. 7. Follow mixing instructions precisely.
  8. 8. Keep all chemicals off your skin, out of your mouth, and away from your eyes. If you get any chemicals on your skin, flush the area immediately with cool. running water.
  9. 9. Do not eat, drink, or smoke while handling chemicals.
  10. 10. Always pour acids slowly into water, never pour water into acids. Do not mix or pour any chemicals at eye level, as a splash could be harmful. Wear protective eyewear when mixing acids.
  11. 11. Avoid touching any electrical equipment with wet hands. Install shock-proof outlets (GFI, ground-fault interruptors) in your darkroom.
  12. 12. Follow instructions for proper disposal of all chemicals. Wash yourself and any equipment that has come into contact with any chemicals. Launder darkroom towels after each session. Dispose of gloves and disposable masks to avoid future contamination. Keep your work space clean and uncontaminated.
  13. 13. Store all chemicals properly. Use safety caps or lock up chemicals to prevent other people and pets from being exposed to their potential dangers. Store chemicals in a cool, dry area away from any direct sunlight.
  14. 14. Remember, people have varying sensitivities to chemiclas. If you have had an allergic reaction to any chemicals, pay close attention to the effects that darkroom chemicals have on you, and be extra careful about following safety procedures.

Dust is perhaps the biggest problem, or rather inhaling chemicals in powdered form. Wear a mask when mixing powdered chemistry (as well as gloves and eye protection). Wipe up spills as they occur, before they dry and become airborne. In general, a clean lab and darkroom is a safe one.