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Thread: Effects of B&W Rinse Waters into Septic/Drainfield Systems?

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Dec 1999
    Forest Grove, Ore.

    Effects of B&W Rinse Waters into Septic/Drainfield Systems?

    Based on Kodak's J300 1999 document, if I had a darkroom in a building that relied on a septic/drainfield, domestic waste disposal system, I would want to contain all my chemicals (developer, stop, fixer, toners) in plastic bottles and dispose of them using local waste disposal centers. This leaves open the question of disposing rinse waters into septic/drainfield systems?

    With respect to this, does anyone know of documentation that addresses disposing of rinse waters used for processing black and white photos into septic/drainfield systems? I'm thinking that, given the dilutions involved, this should have no appreciable effect. But, I'd like to find responsible sources of information that address this question.

    In addition, versus using Kodak indicator stop bath, one can also use citric acid as a stop bath. So, my question extends to whether one can dispose of this used bath into septic/drainfield systems? Isn't citric acid a lit like orange juice in terms of disposal? Does anyone know of responsible sources that address this question as well?

  2. #2

    Re: Effects of B&W Rinse Waters into Septic/Drainfield Systems?

    I stopped using acid stop a long time ago. Plain water does the job. I'd have to think that an afternoon print washing would put much less chemistry into the system than say, cleaning the toilet or a bucket of mop water or running the dishwasher.

  3. #3
    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    USA, North Carolina

    Re: Effects of B&W Rinse Waters into Septic/Drainfield Systems?

    Quote Originally Posted by Henry Ambrose View Post
    I stopped using acid stop a long time ago. Plain water does the job. I'd have to think that an afternoon print washing would put much less chemistry into the system than say, cleaning the toilet or a bucket of mop water or running the dishwasher.
    Well, the toilet, mop bucket, and dishwasher aren't likely to kill off the bacteria in the septic system. You do that, it's no longer a septic system. The main culprit is silver of course. But the other stuff doesn't help.

    @Neil: call Kodak and ask. They've studied the heck out of this and can tell you just about anything you want to know. Failing that, ask on APUG. Poster "Photo Engineer" can and almost certainly will tell you if he's still active on those forums.

    Bruce Watson

  4. #4
    John Olsen
    Join Date
    Jan 2012
    Whidbey Island, WA

    Re: Effects of B&W Rinse Waters into Septic/Drainfield Systems?

    I'll be interested in this. I take all used chemistry, including my hypoclear, to the county hazardous waste site. I go there often enough that they come to my "open studio" days. All that's going into my septic is just photoflo and the last water rinse; I hope that's OK. This could be a good thread for me.

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Dec 2014
    Iowa City, Iowa

    Re: Effects of B&W Rinse Waters into Septic/Drainfield Systems?

    I think the biggest concern by US-EPA is discharge of heavy metals. I always take my blix and fixer to the local photo shop, they recover the silver, then it is safe to dispose of in sanitary sewer.
    XTOL is perfectly safe to dispose of, acetic acid is generated in nature none of these things are a problem.
    I had a darkroom on a septic system for years. Trust me pretty hard to kill off a 500 gallon tank of raw sewage. I never dumped sulfide toners, selenium, used fixer etc. You shouldn't mess with chromium compounds anymore as hexavalent chrome is a carcinogen.
    Bromocresol purple used in indicator stop is used in such minute quantites 1 gram would probably make 2000 gallons of stop.
    All the old mercury and chromium intensifiers are long gone. No more Uranium toner, no Cadmium in paper.
    Obviously when in doubt bottle it label it, don't mix solutions and take it to the authorities, having said that it's probably safer today and more eco-friendly than ever before. Looking at the nightmare in Flint MI makes me all the more aware how much we need to watch what we put into the environment.
    Best Mike

  6. #6
    multi format
    Join Date
    Feb 2001

    Re: Effects of B&W Rinse Waters into Septic/Drainfield Systems?

    kodak used to have a often quoted publication 300J or something like that
    where they said " just dump in your septic system". its often quoted by
    dump in your drain advocates, .. a few years later kodak about-faced and
    said "don't dump anything in your drain". there is still silver in the wash water
    how much? i don't know, but according to my water authority they don't want it to leave the house!
    steel wool / trickle tank / ion transfer will take care of it
    there are test kits you can get that will tell you how much silver is left in your wash water too
    so if you wanted to, you could see for your situation what was there..

    what i heard, is (besides the silver) another problem of the wash water is the volume running out the drain.
    the water just goes right out without being processed ( or so i am told ) i was given an example
    of the way some cities were set up, where street drains dumped into the sewer systems. so after a big storm
    the tanks flooded, and unprocessed "stuff" just overflowed into the river/ocean/wherever the processed
    sewer water is released ... so in other words, flooding the personal septic system with gallons and gallons of water
    floods the whole system ...

    its best to ask test your water, and ask what grey water is permitted to leave the house.
    because what might be OK where you live, might not be OK where john doe lives

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Dec 1999
    Forest Grove, Ore.

    Re: Effects of B&W Rinse Waters into Septic/Drainfield Systems?

    My primary concern isn't about chemistry, it's about the rinse water. I will take all the chemistry to our local hazardous waste disposal system. Oregon has a good program for this that's partially subsidized.

    I will call Kodak later this week and see what they say. But, if anyone knows about documentation that discusses waste water (not chemistry), I'd appreciate knowing about it.

    My reason for asking is that, my wife and I are considering a residence that shares a septic/drainfield domestic waste disposal system with eight other residences. I've already determined that I will contain the actual chemistry and not put it down the drain. But, I need a convincing case that the waste water will not cause a problem. So, something documented would be nice. My hunch is that it won't. But, I need to convince others.

    Also, given the number of residences that will be on the system, and the frequency with which I print, I really doubt that I could use enough water to actually back up the system. A septic system can back up, and of course, that can get ugly. I strongly doubt that I will ever come close to being the cause that circumstance.

  8. #8

    Join Date
    Sep 1998
    Oregon now (formerly Austria)

    Re: Effects of B&W Rinse Waters into Septic/Drainfield Systems?


    Here's my experience and recommendations. These are based on using a darkroom with a septic system for more than 10 years with no problems whatsoever. Currently, I've moved and I'm on city water and building a new darkroom.

    First, Kodak has changed their position on low-volume photo effluent. In older versions of J-300 they advocated just dumping everything down the drain, even into septic systems. I imagine many did this for years (and probably still do) before the new, more politically-correct version of J-300 was published. What has changed mostly is the realization that silver is not great to dump into the environment and the opaque system of newer environmental regulations that made it impossible to recommend anything but "check with local authorities" and "we do not recommend..."

    I dumped developer and stop into the septic system when they were exhausted with no ill-effects for years. That said, I was careful to use the chemistry to exhaustion and mix stop and developer first to neutralize them (this latter only when the stop went bad, often I dumped developer without adding stop to it, just flushed with plenty of water). I used standard developers and PMK with an indicator acetic-acid stop bath. Plus, my volume is not that large, maybe a gallon or two of stock Bromophen a year, 500ml-1l of stock PMK sol A and the associated downstream chemicals.

    Fixer is your main concern, as it contains the dissolved silver. The best solution here is to recover the silver somehow. I used to just take my used fixer to the local photofinisher; they were happy to have it and the silver it contained and just ran it through their silver-recovery system along with their used fixer/blix. When they went out of business, I started collecting my fix and taking it to the local hazmat collection center. This was a nightmare. The personnel there are trained to handle everything the same; as if it were nerve gas or anthrax. They had no idea of silver recovery, were horrified when I wanted my 5-gallon jugs back, and simply dumped the fix in a 55-gal. drum to be later incinerated. Not only unnecessary, but ineffective and costly. I decided my few gallons of fixer a year were better off at the local water-treatment plant after that and simply made periodic trips to a relative's house to dump my fix down their toilet (which was allowed by local regulations). I know you have a plan to dispose of your chemicals already, but if you can find a photofinisher to take your used fix, that is much, much more environmentally responsible than taking it to the hazmat people...

    After my new darkroom is up and running, I still plan to take my used fix to a photofinisher for silver recovery if I can find one in Eugene. Otherwise, I'll get one of jnanian's silver magnets and do it myself. After that, the fix can go down the drain. It could in a septic system too.

    Selenium toner I reuse and replenish, none ever gets tossed. You can too. That said, selenium in a septic system is quickly converted to stable, insoluble selenium sulfate or other sulfur compounds and poses no threat to anything after that.

    Wash effluent should contain so little of anything and be so dilute that it should pose no risk to a septic system, especially a rather large one. I used two 11x14 and one 16x20 archival-style print washers regularly and never had problems.

    That said, you can further minimize carry-over of fixer, etc. to the washer by simply using a tray of wash-aid followed by a tray of water. Give your papers/film the recommended time in wash-aid and a 5-minute bath in the water with agitation/interleaving. Treat both of wash-aid and the tray of water like "chemicals" and save them for collection if you like. The remaining residual chemicals in your wash water will be very, very, little. BTW, even silver that gets carried into the septic system gets converted into silver-sulfur compounds that are insoluble and harmless. What you don't want to do is overload your septic system with metallic silver, which is an bactericide and can kill of the cultures in your system. Trace amounts won't do that.

    Bottom line: IMHO you can just give your prints a wash-aid and water-rinse treatment and don't worry about wash water in the septic system. Unfortunately, I don't have any documentation to point you to. Keep in mind, however, that exhausted fixer only contains 8-10g of silver per liter, and this stays in the fixer. A wash-aid treatment replaces silver-thiosulfate compounds in the paper/film with sodium sulfite, further reducing the amount of carried-over silver. A further water-soak will remove even more leaving very, very little to go into a septic system.

    Do contact Bruce Barlow (he's a member here or at APUG or both) about this as well. He runs a fairly large darkroom on a septic system and is sure to have good advice as well.



  9. #9

    Join Date
    Mar 2004

    Re: Effects of B&W Rinse Waters into Septic/Drainfield Systems?

    A point that is not often made is that the effectiveness of a septic tank is a function of the "residence time", which is roughly the ratio of tank capacity to inflow rate. A quick Google search suggests that something like two days is a common design rule, so a 1000-gallon septic tank would be good for no more than 500 gallons per day. An archival print washer might run at 1/2 gallons per minute, or 30 gallons per hour; one wash cycle per day would correspond to about one luxurious hot shower per day, However, if the washer an continuously for six or eight hours, the impact on the septic system would not be trivial.

    If prints are thoroughly rinsed first, print wash water contains negligible amounts of chemicals of any kind, and probably should be used for irrigation.

  10. #10

    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Summerville, SC

    Re: Effects of B&W Rinse Waters into Septic/Drainfield Systems?


    Think of it as insurance.....

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