View Full Version : chemical sensitivity

3-Feb-2005, 14:11
I have a friend who suffers from serious chemical sensitivity. It started when she worked in a horrifically unventilated college darkroom. She now has a darkroom with powerful vents, and she wears long rubber gloves and an industrial respirator. But it's gotten to the point where she gets sick within minutes of starting to print. We're not sure exactly what chemical does it to her (but we know it's not metol) because she doesn't want to put herself through the hell of systematic testing.

She did a mural printing project recently in another darkroom, and didn't get sick at all. The differences were 1) she wasn't using stop bath for the mural project, and 2) she was using Sprint developer instead of hear usual Edwal Platinum II.

So, I'm wondering, has anyone heard of an acetic acid reaction? It sounds unlikely to me. And if it's the developer, can anyone think what developing agent in Platinum II might be the culprit? The obvious answer would be to switch to Sprint, but it doesn't give her the slightly warm print color (on ilford gallerie, which she has a room full of) that she likes.

Another possibility is some different developer that gives similar results to Platinum II without the mysterious offending ingredient.

The ingredients I've been able to find in Edwal Platinum II:

Sodium Sulphite,
Potassium Carbonate,
Sodium Bromide,

Dimezone is a close chemical relative of phenidone; versene seems to be a trade name for EDTA.

Sprint developer contains the following (which she is aparenty not sensitive to):

diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol,
dimethlyformamide (a solvent that might cause problems, but doesn't seem to for her),
sodium metabisulfite,
sodium metaborate,

Thanks from her and me both for any ideas!

Michael S. Briggs
3-Feb-2005, 14:44
Since two items, stop bath and developer, were varied at once you can't be sure which one made the difference. Was the same fixer used? Looking at the ingredients of Edwal Platinum II that are not in the Sprint devloper, I don't seem any that seem a plausible cause, especially since she wears gloves. I am not a toxicologist, so I could be wrong. Some people complain about the smell of acetic acid. I suggest trying a citric acid based stop bath.

Ralph Barker
3-Feb-2005, 14:44
While she should really discuss this with her doctor, it sounds like substituting a water bath for the stop bath might be a good starting point. If that doesn't do it, then look at the developer. From your description, though, it sounds more like a reaction to air-borne fumes.

bob carnie
3-Feb-2005, 15:01
Hi Paul
Unfortunately , I would have to agree with Ralph regarding getting the Doctor involved. This has happened to a few workers I have known and you should advise her to go.
I doubt any of us on this forum would be able to help you on this matter, I am not trying to be pessimistic but practical.

Eric Woodbury
3-Feb-2005, 16:06
Reduce all the chemicals to the simplist form. Try Agfa Neutol Plus or make one of the vitamin C developers. Use water for stop. Use a simple fixer or use hypo (if you use hypo, you may need a stop bath, but it could be a vitamin C type, too.)

3-Feb-2005, 16:06
She's been to the doctor ... and the herbalist, and the acupuncturist, and god knows who else. Unfortunately, these kinds of chemical hypersensitivities (acquired allergies?) haven't been studied much. The most helpful advice a doctor tends to give is "stay away from that stuff."

I just found out she spoke with someone at the distributor or manufacturer who thinks it might be the dimezone (the only odd ingredient in platinum II). He's suggested she try ethol lpd, which is aparently very similar except for that. We'll see. If that doesn't work, I've advised her to try a water bath stop, just to eliminate that acetic acid possibility.

Michael S. Briggs
3-Feb-2005, 16:46
Are the indications that it is an inhalation caused problem, or a contact caused problem? I am guessing inhalation because of the use of gloves. A simple test: have someone else mix up the solutions and then have the sensitive person enter the darkroom, not touching anything. If she experiences chemical sensitivity, then it must be either inhalation or pyschological because of memories of previous experiences.

The Dimezone S is a common ingredient in commercial developers -- it is a variant of phenidone. Dimezone S is used instead of phenidone because it has a longer lifetime. This class of developers in generally considered to be unlikely to cause chemical sensitivity. If she is avoiding touching the developer, Dimezone S as the cause doesn't seem plausible.

Some people are bothered by acetic acid fumes or by sulfer dioxide that is emitted by some fixers. These seem more plausible to me. Alternatives are citric acid based stop baths, or a water stop bath, and simplier fixers.

This is all guess work and the decision about whether tto risk chemical contact is up to each person.

Even powerful fans may not ventilate well if the air flow isn't well thought out. The best approach is to withdraw the air at the back of the sink just above the solutions. This collects any fumes close to the source and moves them away from the operator. A powerful fan in the ceiling may pull the fumes past the operator.

Bill L.
3-Feb-2005, 17:33
Assuming it is the same basic type of sulphur moeity, some people are quite sensitive to sulfites. They are sometimes used as preservatives, and now IIRC require a warning lable (you'll see them on bottles of wine, at least).


3-Feb-2005, 18:24
I hadn't thought of the sulphur dioxide possibility.
Is there a type of fixer that won't release this?

She's been wearing a cartridge respirator in the darkroom, with multipurpose industrial cartridges,
but not all cartridges stop all fumes.

Conrad Hoffman
3-Feb-2005, 18:59
I'm no expert on this, but it shouldn't be too tough to figure out where the problem is. Have her do some prints with only developer set up. Put 'em in water, don't turn on the lights, and ahve somebody else fix 'em. Now add a tray of stop and do the same thing. Then add a tray of fixer. At some point, she should be able to tell you what bothered her. IMO, developers put very little in the air. The problem is more likely the stop or fix. If stop is a problem, salad should be as well, but you can switch to various other chems or water. If fix is the problem, see if TF-4 is any better.

Michael S. Briggs
3-Feb-2005, 19:29
You've got to know what the irritating or dangerous gas is to select the proper cartridge.

I use Kodak Fixer F-6 or F-24 as low odor fixers, both of which I mix from scratch.

Lloyd Erlick gives some advice and formulae at http://www.heylloyd.com/technicl/plain.htm (http://www.heylloyd.com/technicl/plain.htm). Take a look at the formulae for F-6, "plain fix" and citric acid stop bath.

Paul Fitzgerald
3-Feb-2005, 19:45
Hi there,

"She did a mural printing project recently in another darkroom, and didn't get sick at all. The differences were 1) she wasn't using stop bath for the mural project, and 2) she was using Sprint developer instead of hear usual Edwal Platinum II."

The difference was 'she was in another darkroom'. Sorry to overstate the obvious but I think you 2 are looking in the wrong places for the problem. Could the powerful vents be pulling something into the room thru the sink drain?

Activated charcoal filters have a short working life, they absorb moisture from the air. If you reuse them, they should be stored in a zip-lock bag.

Good luck with the search.

3-Feb-2005, 19:59
"The difference was 'she was in another darkroom'. Sorry to overstate the obvious but I think you 2 are looking in the wrong places for the problem. Could the powerful vents be pulling something into the room thru the sink drain?"

Naah, this isn't a new problem for her. She had it in her previous darkroom too. But it's been worse lately.

We both realize what the systematic, process of elimination approach would be--the problem is, when she reacts to the chemicals it makes her sick and miserable for over a day. She doesn't want to play guinee pig any more than absolutely necessary. So we're trying to put our finger on the most likely culprit before she goes back in there.

How is TF-4 different from regular fix?

3-Feb-2005, 20:10
You might try substituting citric acid stop bath for acetic acid stop and nothing else. If this eliminates the problem then you know it is the acetic acid. Citric acid is odorless, I believe it is used in both Sprint and Clayton stop baths.

Donald Qualls
3-Feb-2005, 20:38
I'll second the sulfur dioxide suggestion, and recommend alkaline fixer as a possible solution -- sulfite reacts with acids to produce the sulfur dioxide, but no such reaction occurs with alkali. Too alkaline, however, and the fixer could evolve ammonia, which might be as bad or worse; best to keep the fixer close to neutral. If you prefer a commercial product, you might look at procuring a C-41 fixer (not a bleach-fix, but the fixer only); these are ammonium thiosulfate based rapid fixers but are near neutral pH.

mark blackman
4-Feb-2005, 01:47
The obvious answer is to keep out the darkroom completely. She should move to digital print processing to cease contact with whichever of the chemicals is causing the reaction

Kirk Keyes
4-Feb-2005, 14:20
Another thing to think about is has she been trained to actually use a respirator. If she wasn't properly fitted with the right size of respirator and trained how to adjust it and how to test the seal, it will probably not do any good.

Perhaps it is psychological?

Ultimately, your friend is doing herself a disservice by not going to a doctor and getting tested. She may want to find someone that has some industrial hygiene experience since most doctors are probably not up on photographic chemicals.

4-Feb-2005, 16:27
"Another thing to think about is has she been trained to actually use a respirator. If she wasn't properly fitted with the right size of respirator and trained how to adjust it and how to test the seal, it will probably not do any good."

this is an excellent question. she does tell me she can smell the vanilla flavored sprint stop bath when she has the respirator on. is there any chance that smell would get through a cartridge rated for particuates, organic vapors, and acid vapors?

Kirk Keyes
5-Feb-2005, 09:36
paulr - his is an indication that she does not have a proper fit on the respirator. There is no chance that vanilla scent would make it through with a properly fitted mask with good filters.

Resipirators come in different sizes for difference sized faces. I'm sure she doesn't have to worry about this, but men must be clean shaven to get a good seal - no whiskers where the mask makes contact with the face. I've seen people with smaller noses not be able to make a good seal with the mask.

If she is smelling the vanilla, then she does not have a good seal - assuming the cartridge has not died. In fact, if you have a good fit, when she starts to smell the vanilla is when she should replace the cartridge. Remember that, as an earlier poster pointed out, the catridge must be stored in a sealed plastic bag when the catridge is not being used to maintain maximum life.

As I said, the vanilla smell shows there to be a failure of the respirator system - she can get some bannana oil testers that she can use to verify the fit of the mask before she goes into the darkroom. When I was fit, I could not smell the bannana oil once I got the fit right.

It's not just a matter of yanking the straps down hard to get a good seal so she should definitely find someone that can train her to use the respirator properly. One indication that the fit is good, is put the mask on with out the cartridges, and then place you hand over the hole for the cartridge, and seal it with your hand. Then she should try to breathe in, and the mask should suck into her face, and she should not feel any leaks, say around the nose, and she should not be able to get any air. It should be sealed!

But I am not the best person to try and train you and her on this issue - find someone that is actually certified in training the use of these devices. If you are not near a large city, go try your local fire department where they should know a lot more about this than I do.

And as I said before, seeing a doctor is really the first step to properly solving this issue. There may be a much simpler solution to this issue than dressing as if she is going to a hazmat emergency.

Harold Levie
7-Feb-2005, 12:50
This thread has gone on long enough that most of the reasonable explanations have been covered (I tend to suspect the sulfur dioxide-from-fixer connection, myself) but there is one possibility that I didn't notice: chlorine from the water.

My well water has a fair amount of hydrogen sulfide, which isn't normally noticeable in the house. But in the darkroom, particularly when tray-washing 11x14 prints, it builds up to a detectable level. This is presumably due to the large surface area (tray plus runoff into the sink) coupled with the steady renewal of the water.

If the suspect darkroom is on a different water supply than the "known good" darkroom, this might bear looking into. Chloramines produced by the reaction of chlorine with organics in the water are notorious irritants. Public utilities use a variety of treatment methods (for this reason, among others) and the ventilation patterns could be carrying gases up into the breathing zone before exhausting them.

Incidentally, I now do my large-print washing in the large, airy garage rather than the small, close darkroom....

7-Feb-2005, 12:59
Problem solved!

she figured it out .... it was the sprint stop bath, of all things.
she's guessing the culprit might actually be the artificial vanilla scent, since that is likely the only unusual ingredient, and it's not listed on the msds.

interestingly, it's the only chemical she could smell through the respirator (only at full strength, when she was mixing it). it turns out she did have the mask profesionally fitted, and it does pass the banana oil test, so who knows why the poison vanilla gets through.

Anyway, i just traded her a bottle of citric acid for a cube of sprint stop bath, and she's printing happily with no problems.

My only guess is that it's a simple allergic reaction.

Thank you everyone for all the thoughtful replies. They were helpful to her as she figured all of this out.


Kirk Keyes
7-Feb-2005, 14:33
Glad to hear you have a solution!

So she's able to process without wearing the mask now?


7-Feb-2005, 14:56
I think she's become sufficiently paranoid that she'll keep the mask.
It's not the first time she's had a chemical problem (I think selenium messes with her, too)
but it's the first time she's had a major problem since using the mask and gloves.