FX of photographic chemicals on health?

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A recent thread brought up the matter of Edward Weston's disease, Parkinson's. It made me wonder about the long-term effects of photo chemicals, and I can't help but wonder if Weston's illness wasn't brought on or worsened by Amidol, Pyro, and who knows what else. After all, he used his hands for the entire process, so his body must have absorbed large amounts of poison. I've read that if you leave your hands in Pyro long enough, you can actually develop an odd taste sensation. Who knows what else it does?

-- Bruce Schultz (schultzredfish@aol.com), December 04, 2001


The question of Edward Weston's disease is pretty fuzzy. I don't think it's all that certain he had Parkinson's. It certainly is not clear how he, or anyone else for that matter, got Parkinson's (if that's what he had). The cause of Parkinson's Disease is unknown. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine a couple years ago found a hereditary link in the case of early-onset Parkinson's, but only early-onset. In any event, whatever Weston had did not appear till late middle-age.... Pyro is an MSDS sheet certified carcinogen, which can get in the system by contact with the skin. I use it and wear gloves. As far as I know, no case of cancer or any other major disease has ever been attributed to photographic use of pyro (or of amidol, for that matter, which certainly stains fingers, trays, photographic prints, etc.).... Compared to what I do with pyro and amidol (occasional use w/ gloves), Edward Weston may as well have bathed in the stuff every day.... What happened to dear old EW is a shame. -jeff buckels (albuquerque)

-- Jeff Buckels (jeffbuck@swcp.com), December 04, 2001.

i think it would be hard to attribute any specific life threatening diseases to photographic chemicals,at least many we might routinely use throughout the past 30-40 years. of course we need to use some precautions but there are many examples of photographers who have had very long lives( berenice abbott, aaron siskind, harry callahan, alvarez bravo, helen levitt) and therefore i think we should be careful about looking at "causes." all this said, there are many who have various dermatological problems from chemistry so handling should be done with

-- robert lyons (ralfoto@aol.com), December 04, 2001.

There is a really good book out there on the dangers posed by photographic chemicals, but for the life of me I can't remeber the title

tim a

-- tim atherton (tim@kairosphoto.com), December 04, 2001.

I'm sure that the book to which you're alluding is "overExposure" by Susan D. Shaw & Monona Rossol (Allworth Press, New York ISBN: 0-9607118-6-4.

A must have for all photographic alchemists.

Safe working ... Walter

-- Walter Glover (walterg@netaus.net.au), December 04, 2001.

I think this is it - Health Hazards for Photographers

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1558211810/qid% 3D1007500255/ref%3Dsr%5F11%5F0%5F1/104-6261784-5629525

-- tim atherton (tim@kairosphoto.com), December 04, 2001.

Tim, you may be thinking of "Overexposed"...it's similar to the "Artists Beware" type books.....about 10 years back the NPPA put out a great booklet called "Making Darkrooms Saferooms", if you all can find a copy of that, it's a good overview of safety in the darkroom and covers alot of ground. Another good book, although not a safety book directly, is Dr. Richard Henry's "Controls in B&W Photography"....I believe he was a chemist or something similar by trade, and there's a great basic chapter in chemical safety that's not quaite as hard-core as the Overexposed book....the NPPA book has a few chapters dealing with some health surveys amongst different age groups and technical occupations in regards to photographers, although it's mainly geared towards newspaper staffs and b&w and color processes. It was a pretty in-depth study for the membership, and dealt with working with employers to upgrade darkrooms to OSHA specs.

-- DK Thompson (kthompson@moh.dcr.state.nc.us), December 04, 2001.


I wouldn't for one instant suggest treating any chemicals flippantly. But I think photo chemicals often get an unjustified bad rap on this count. A neighbour of mine was shocked that I used sodium sulphite till I pointed out that mountains of the stuff are used in food processing. And some of the stuff under your sink (bleaches, cleaners, pest killers etc are a lot more deadly).

Yes, pyro is toxic and dermal absorption is a problem (as it is with catechol). The link between pyro and things like Parkinson's is speculative, no firm evidence for that link (unlike the link between pyro and kidney failure etc which has lots more evidence).

I think that this means, if one is using pyro or catechol (or any chemical), get upto speed about the potential hazards of the chemicals and use appropriate precaution. Although that is probably good advice to follow for anything in life (from driving a car to crossing the street).

Cheers DJ

-- N Dhananjay (dhananjay-nayakankuppam@uiowa.edu), December 04, 2001.

I have been processing film in the dark for over 40 years.

My skin is dry, my hair has fallen out, my joints hurt, I have arthritis, my wife says I need viagra, my dentist says my breath stinks, my teeth are yellow....

Nope, no adverse effects from the chemicals I can think of.


-- Bill Smithe (bs2@aol.com), December 04, 2001.

Most Benzen derivatives are considered carcinogens. Catechol (o- dihydroxybenzen) and pyro (1,2,3 trihydroxybenzen) as such are considered carcinogens. they are usually absobed through the skin and the organs they mostly damage are the liver, CNS, and if I remember correctly the eyes, but do not take my word on the last one. The funny thing is that Hydroquinone (p-dihydroxybenzen) which is very similar to catechol does not seem to scare anybody. In the quantities used to make developers, the risk of overexposure is minimal.

Bottom line, do not bathe in it, if you work daily with these chemicals minimize exposure so that the cumulative dose is less than the recommended by OSHA, and if you only develop a roll a month, do not worry!

BTW, The book by Susan Shaw is full of mistakes and unnecessary scare tactics.

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (jorgegm58@prodigy.net.mx), December 04, 2001.

DJ, I'll bet you my jar of cyanide that photo chemicals are taken far too lightly and far too often the results are far too costly to our health. Ken

-- Ken Woodard (klwoodard1@home.com), December 04, 2001.

If we can all be as fit as Bill Smithe at the age of thirty I doubt if we have anything to worry about, but I have made the decision not to use Pyro and I now wear gloves since having orange fingernails for three weeks after using amidol.

-- Pete Watkins (pete_watkins@btinternet.com), December 05, 2001.

Ken, like I said, I'm not for one moment suggesting one should be flippant about it. I'm merely saying that it is important that one should get the correct information on these issues. The fear about photochemicals (especially those used in B&W) is also, in some ways, somewhat irrational. After all, these are the same people who seem less concerned about the benzene derivatives or whatever in Raid, stuff in household cleaners like toilet cleaners, oven cleaners etc, paint thinners, descalers and the like. How many folks wear a dust mask when using an aerosol cleaner? At the risk of trivializing this, how about BigMacs? Now, I'm not for a moment saying that two wrongs make a right. I'm merely saying that chemicals (of any kind) should be treated with respect and the first step in that is getting accurate information about it.

To clarify, I'm all for using appropriate precautions. I'm just saying one should get informed about what the actual hazards rather than making unwarranted conclusions based on Weston's Parkinson and the fact that he used pyro and Amidol. And for one example of Weston who used pyro and contacted Parkinson's, one could offer counter- examples of Morley Baer, Ansel Adams, Michael A. Smith, Ron Wisner etc etc. Its just not a scientific or an accurate way to come to conclusions about toxicity hazards etc. The fact that Weston died of Parkinson's does not worry me. The fact that ORAL-RAT LD50 is 789 mg per kg does. Pyro is a known carcinogen and is toxic and dermal ingestion is a real danger. However, its mechanism is quite different - it crosses the blood brain barrier, it will do in your kidneys etc. Its links to Parkinson's etc, however, are without evidence. Was Weston careless to have had his hands in pyro? Probably, although its toxicity was probably less understood back then.

Taking the required precautions against the known hazards of pyro and amidol are ridiculously simple. Don't get your hands in the soup - use gloves or rock the tray or use a rotary processing technique. Buy a premixed liquid kit from the formulary or wear a dust mask when mixing the solutions. Don't drop powders into the solution from a height. Instead, submerge the package under the water and cut it open or lower the paper with the weighed chemicals into the water.

Like I said, I'm not suggesting flippancy in dealing with chemicals of any kinds, photo or otherwise. All I'm saying is that coming up with appropriate precautions requires accurate understanding first.

Good health, DJ.

-- N Dhananjay (dhananjay-nayakankuppam@uiowa.edu), December 05, 2001.

The body absorbs materials through the skin. Regardless of what we do or don't know about photo chemicals, are they something you want to absorb into your system (of course we breathe in plenty anyway)? I where gloves. They're a pain, but on the other hand they help me to slow down and be more methodical.

-- Bob Stern (r_stern@mindspring.com), December 14, 2001.

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