Welcome to the second part of the article “Darkroom and Law in Italy”.
Once, the photographer’s darkroom was a room with a table and a sink, with an enlarger and some running water, with many boxes of photo paper and bottles with chemicals. A very artisanal way of doing photography. Then the World began to say that some chemicals in use in classic photography may be dangerous or hazardous for the human health or for the environment. Soon strict rules were enforced to law and the life for darkroom photographers became very tough. At the beginning a simple exhaust chemical recycling was enough. Then special permissions, official documents and registered files became mandatory. Every year a new and more strict rule was enforced, obliging many darkroom to spend lots and lots of money to meet the necessary requirements for respecting the laws.
Nowadays the Law in Italy says that ‘not a drop of a possible contaminated water or chemical must be drawn or splashed on the pavement’ or you are in serious troubles being put together with criminals of the environment such as those managers of BP of the Gulf of Mexico disaster or the Fukushima one…
A darkroom today must have a closed circuit for water. That means a special water filtering system for cleaning any chemical from the water you do use for mixing the solutions, washing your jars, tanks and cylinders, washing your prints and even washing your hands. Such polluted water runs into a closed circuit and is chemically cleaned by special depurators. Then comes back to taps. Such a closed water managing costs from a minimum of 20.000 euros up. The special filters for cleaning the water must be regenerated at every cycle, that means an extra of 500-1000 euro a month, depending on the amount of water used in the processes.
Also, a darkroom must have a certified air change of a specific power. ‘Certified’ means that you must pay an engineer to write the technical specification for another company that has to build a huge air extractor. When such a machine is running, the doors (or the darkroom curtains) may not stay in their position since the air vacuum inside is so strong. And the air cannot be extracted from any point of your darkroom ceiling. Absolutely, you must extract the air from the edge of any of your working place, including development tables, sinks, trays and so on. So you must provide for special sinks and working tables made on purpose for your labs. Just think at the amount of canalizations from tables to air extractor… I believe these vapors must be very poisonous, even if no photographer realized that over 150 years of darkroom practice!
Is that all? Not at all!
Italian Law says also that who ever works in a darkroom must in the order: wear a special clothing such as an apron to be wasted at the end of each session into a specific container for hazardous waste; wear rubber gloves to be wasted at every session into a different specific container for hazardous waste as well; wear special protective glasses (since we know photography chemicals are so dangerous…!). Moreover you must collect any little piece of wasted film and photo paper in a special trash bin for hazardous waste again, since you cannot waste those super hazardous materials together with normal waste. They contain little amounts of silver. It may pollute the world in an irreversible way! I must believe silver is worse than burning gas in car’s engine every day!
Chemicals also must be recycled and wasted accordingly with special recycling rules. Fixers must be collected into their own specific container, again for hazardous waste; developers and any other chemical can go together into a new specific container, again for hazardous waste; empty chemical bottles and worn chemical containers must be wasted accordingly too! Also burnt lamps of the enlargers or of your darkroom must be stocked in a special container for being sent to recycling. So, you must have all separate special containers in your darkrooms for wasting all these different materials: clothing, gloves, film & paper, lamps, fixer, other chemicals, containers.
Is that finished so far? Hold on, please.
All the above mentioned recycles must be filed on official registers, stamped and approved by an official bureau. Once every a due time (at least once a year) they must be sent to a special factory where they will be processed and reduced to unpolluting compounds. You must pay for that and – this is the best part of all – you are considered responsible for what the factory decides to do with the exhausts you give them! So, if they want to throw them to the river, you must respond of that to the Law! That’s Italy… Last but not least: do you have a special room, metal jacket, fireproof, lockable, where to store your stock chemicals? If not, you are outlaw!
Ok, that’s definitely all.
I really can’t understand why things are so bad in this Country. Abroad, people and Governments use common sense for to rule border matters such as this one. what may be the damage to the environment if I do wash my fixer-spilled apron in my washing machine, if I drive my car every day, wash clothes using 90% biodegradable soap (where does go the remaining 10%?), and so on, just to make some examples. That’s anyways how it works today. No matter why. We all understand that the environment must be protected, even if honestly I do not understand the restriction level to photographic processes in a time out there at least three billions people, in this exact moment, are driving a car which needs to burn oil to work!
The story so far told is dramatically true for Italy. Luckily, I see foreign Governments are more open to use common sense and leave people more freedom. I hope it will last that way for many years to come, even if the rules so strictly applied in Italy are also met by EU. I wish they will never come into such a ridiculous disaster as in Italy. We may discuss the reason why just few years ago that wasn’t that hard to run a darkroom. We may realize that it all changed when the power of the biggest chemical companies such as Kodak and Agfa came less with their bankrupts or economic problems and other giants of digital technology, such as Nikon and Canon, came to lead the game. I want to leave this question open to any discussion that may arise. The fact is that we, the photographers, are kindly asked not to use chemicals anymore.
The light at the end of the tunnel is indeed bright! All these rules are not applicable if you are a private citizen! Yes, you will get comfortable night’s sleep enjoying your private darkroom. Just be informed, ‘watch your steps’, and also watch the environment: it will thank you for not throwing your exhausted chemicals into drain. That’s all. So, after all, I invite you all to set up your own darkroom and get satisfaction out of it. It’s still a great experience I wouldn’t stop, never.