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Water: Photo Processing

Effluent Guidelines: Photographic Processing


The photoprocessing industry includes establishments that are engaged in providing the following services: portrait photography for the general public; commercial photography; commercial art or graphic design; or photo finishing.

In 1976, EPA promulgated a final rule establishing BPT for the Photographic Category (40 CFR 459). BPT regulations under Part 459 limit direct discharges of wastewater for silver, cyanide, and pH. In 1997, EPA published Preliminary Data Study for the Photoprocessing Industry (1997 PDS) (U.S. EPA, 1997). That study noted that most photoprocessing facilities are small (less than 10 employees), typically discharging less than 1,000 gallons/day of wastewater, and overwhelmingly discharging to POTWs.

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What is Photographic Processing?

Photographic processing is the development or printing of paper prints, slides, negatives, enlargements, movie film, and other sensitized materials. The Photographic effluent guidelines regulate direct dischargers that process more than 150 square meters (1600 square feet) per day. Both commercial and military facilities are potentially subject to these regulations. The process water used in photoprocessing typically includes 1) film and paper wash water, 2) solution make-up water and 3) area and equipment wash water. The typical constituents of the photoprocessing wastewater streams are listed below.

  • Organic Chemicals
  • Chromium Compounds
  • Ferricyanide
  • Silver
  • Thiocyanate
  • Ammonium Compounds
  • Sulfur Compounds
  • Phospate

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Facilities Covered

Photoprocessing includes facilities in SIC codes 7221, 7335, 7336, and 7384. The 1987 SIC Code Manual defines these SIC codes as

  • 7221: Photographic Studios, Portrait
  • 7335: Commercial Photography
  • 7336: Commercial Art and Graphic Design
  • 7384: Photofinishing Laboratories

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Final Rule

The Federal Register notice that established photoprocessing standards is Photographic Point Source Category; Effluent Guidelines and Standards; Interim Final Rule Making (41 FR 29077; July 14, 1976).

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Guidance and Background Documents

The following documents provide a resource to permit writers that are incorporating the Photographic effluent guidelines (40 CFR Part 459) into NPDES permits or are developing site specific limits for facilities in the photographic processing sector.

Guidance Document for the Control of Water Pollution in the: Photographic Processing Industry (EPA-440-1-81-082-9; April 1981)
Preliminary Data Summary:
Preliminary Data Summary for the Photoprocessing Industry (EPA-HQ-OW-2004-0032-0697; 1996)
EPA Review:
EPA Review of Photoprocessing Industry (EPA-HQ-OW-2004-0032-0695; August 2005)

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Additional Information/Contacts

For additional information regarding photographic processing industry effluent guidelines, please see photographic processing contacts.

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