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News flash - 11/22/19 -Methylene Chloride no longer permitted to be sold as paint remover 

 Most people probably don't think of art and theater as being affected by environmental issues. If you've arrived at this part of the tour, though, you probably are aware that chemical storage, waste management and the vapors associated with certain chemicals are as much a part of the arts as of other departments.

We invite you to browse through this section of the tour to learn more about such issues as:

        How to manage waste by-products from arts-related activities (such as that accumulation of chemical containers that never seem to get used)

        Recycling or otherwise managing waste to avoid its becoming a hazardous waste, which allows your school to save money on disposal costs

        What legally can--and absolutely cannot--be poured down the sink (your basic rule of thumb is: Ask First!)

Read on for federal environment regulations and best practices for avoiding unnecessary exposure to chemicals used in a printing shop, darkroom or photographic lab; working with paints and glazes; handling etching waste; and more.

 Even when not required by environmental regulations, the following practices are recommended. In some instances, these practices are required by regulations.

Acid Storage/Use

For safe acid storage and handling, adhere to the following:

  1. Always store acids in a cabinet constructed of material that is compatible with acids.
  2. Working with acids should always take place in an acid hood with adequate ventilation.
  3. When mixing stop baths or solutions, always add acid to water.  Never add water to acid.
  4. Have available and use the proper safety equipment/devices such as eye protection, emergency eye-washer and shower.

Aerosols/Paint Management

  1. Implement a "first in, first out" use pattern for aerosol cans, and order new cans on an as-needed basis to ensure that cans are used up prior to opening new cans.
  2. Carefully determine whether spent aerosol cans are hazardous or non-hazardous. If contents and/or propellant remain(s) in the can, it is likely a hazardous waste; if there is neither content nor propellant, then it is likely a non-hazardous waste.
  3. To minimize disposal costs, ensure that truly empty aerosol containers are either sent to a scrap-metal recycler or disposed of in the trash.
  4. Minimize excess liquid paint by making efficient use of paint "poured" for use (i.e., use what you pour).

Paints and Glazes Waste Minimization

Turpentine and oil paints may be hazardous because they are flammable. Some paints, such as chromium yellow, contain heavy metals and therefore they can be toxic as well as flammable.  In order to reduce the impacts of waste disposal on the environment and to reduce waste disposal costs, try to minimize the generation of hazardous waste. This can be done in the following ways:

  1. Try to use water-based paint instead of oil-based paint, whenever possible.
  2. Buy only the quantity of material that you need to complete your project.
  3. If paint or other materials are left over, see if someone else can use them. Donate--don't dispose!
  4. Train staff in proper painting techniques to improve painting efficiencies.
  5. Use powder coats instead of liquid paints where applicable.
  6. Bulk compatible paints into approved containers and transport to an approved paint recycler.
  7. Establish an agreement with paint distributor to take back unused paint.
  8. Store paint properly to extend its useful life, storing it in a location where it will not freeze.
  9. Dry small quantities of latex paint that don't meet the hazardous waste definition and dispose of this material in the regular trash.
  10. Depleting the propellant in an aerosol can may result in contents remaining in the can, which may be hazardous waste. If the nozzle of an aerosol can is broken or clogged and can no longer be used, then the can remains under pressure, rendering the can a hazardous waste.  
  11. Place aerosol cans that have no pressure and no content through normal use into the regular trash or scrap metal recycling.
  12. Investigate the use of non-heavy metal-based glazes.

Waste Handling and Disposal

Best practices related to waste handling and disposal include the following suggested activities:

  1. Perform regular housekeeping activities in waste storage areas.
  2. Reuse or recycle materials whenever possible.
  3. Inspect waste management areas for spills and waste management containers for leaks.
  4. Track waste generated, evaluate the process generating the waste and look for ways to reduce waste generation.
  5. Characterize waste streams.
  6. Find substitutes for harmful chemicals; properly dispose of unusable chemical inventory.
  7. Segregate and separate wastes.
  8. Do not dispose of liquid wastes such as oils or hazardous materials into dumpsters or drains.
  9. Maintain adequate supplies of spill response equipment and materials in accessible locations near areas where spills may be likely to occur.
  10. Perform, and document in a logbook, periodic inspections of hazardous and non-hazardous waste storage areas.

Printing Waste Minimization

In order to reduce the impacts of waste disposal on the environment and to reduce waste disposal costs, try to minimize the generation of hazardous waste. This can be done in the following ways:

  1. To decrease the number of cleanings required for each press, dedicate presses to specific colors or special inks.
  2. Dispose of solvents by sending them to a fuel blending service, which combines these and other wastes for burning at industrial boilers or kilns.
  3. Clean ink fountains only when changing colors when there is a risk of ink drying.
  4. Run similar jobs simultaneously to reduce waste volume.
  5. Isolate inks contaminated with hazardous cleanup solvents from non-contaminated inks.
  6. For rags and disposable wipers contaminated with solvents (if allowable, meaning, if not characteristically hazardous [ignitable, D001] and saturated, or if not a listed solvent) send them to laundry service. Check with your EH&S and/or state to see if this is acceptable.
  7. Use organic solvent alternatives, such as detergent or soap, non-hazardous blanket washes, and less toxic acetic acid solvents wherever possible.
  8. Squeegee or wipe surfaces clean before washing with solvent.
  9. Implement inventory controls to avoid overstocking of inks, solvents, and other printing chemicals.

Employee Training

Training employees in proper procedures to reduce your facility's impact on the environment is a best practice. More detailed training information is provided in the regulatory requirements sections of the virtual tour. Employee training may include the following:

  1. Spill response training for personnel who handle hazardous materials,
  2. Right-to-know training to inform users of the dangers inherent to the hazardous materials being used, and
  3. Hazardous materials management.

Silver Recovery Options

Using a silver recovery process may save you money and allow you to avoid handling many materials used/produced as part of the photo developing process as hazardous waste. Suitable recycling methods include:

Hazardous waste management firm - Developer/fixer disposal can be handled through an off-site silver reclamation facility that is licensed to accept hazardous waste. Make certain you obtain the appropriate copies of the manifests and any certificates of reclamation for shipments sent to these companies.

Operate your own silver recovery unit - Purchase and use your own silver recovery unit on-site. Operating this type of unit will require certain regulatory obligations. Make certain that the concentrations of silver in your recovery process waste are allowable to be discharged to the local sewer system.

Photo Development

  1. Acid is used in photo developing stop bath solutions. Follow safe acid storage and handling practices (above).
  2. When mixing powdered developers, ensure proper ventilation (this is required by OSHA), preferably with a fume hood.
  3. Ensure good ventilation of the darkroom with between 10 and 20 air changes per hour.
  4. Wear gloves and goggles when handling photography chemicals.
  5. To prevent evaporation or release of toxic vapors and gases, cover all solutions when not in use.
  6. Replace other highly toxic developers such as catechin, chlorquinol, or pyrogallol with less toxic developers such as phenidone.
  7. Keep hypo eliminators away from sources of heat.
  8. Read the updated Safety Data Sheets (SDS) on all chemicals used in the developing of film. SDSs must be available to employees at all times.
  9. Eliminate trip hazards by keeping containers off the floor.
  10. Do not store chemicals that may react with each other in the same area.
  11. Do not eat, smoke, or drink in the facility.
  12. Using a pre-made liquid developer is safer than mixing powdered developers. If powdered chemicals must be mixed, do so in a fume hood or glove box.
  13. All darkrooms should have eyewash stations that connect to the water supply and use "hands-free" operation.
  14. Label containers of photography chemicals.
  15. Neutralize any acid spills using a buffering agent prior to cleaning up with inert or other non-reactive absorbents.  Use acid spill kits for small- to medium-size spills. 
  16. Use a damp towel or sponge to clean up spills of dusts and powders.
  17. Photochemicals with a pH of less than or equal to 2 or greater than or equal to 12.5 (pH <=2 or pH >=12.5) are considered hazardous waste must not be poured down the drain.  Refer to section on RCRA.


Typically, a wet etching involves a design cut into a zinc plate, which is put into nitric acid and then washed with alcohol and kerosene.  Follow safe acid storage and handling practices (above).

These substances and others often associated with the etching process, such as nitric acid and ferric chloride solution, are corrosive and must not simply be poured down the drain; they must be managed as hazardous waste. In fact, many of these chemicals fall under the EPA's Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), and once a waste, under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).


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