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OSHA Hazard Information Bulletins
Exposure to cyanide during the process of recovering silver from X-ray film


June 15, 1984

MEMORANDUM FOR:

REGIONAL ADMINISTRATORS

THROUGH:

  • JOHN B. MILES
  • Director
  • Directorate of Field Operations

FROM:

  • EDWARD J. BAIER
  • Director
  • Directorate of Technical Support

SUBJECT:

  • Health Hazard Information on Exposure to Cyanide During the Process of Recovering Silver form X-ray Film

The information which follows was brought to our attention by Frank Strasheim, Regional Administrator, Region V. Our purpose is to alert the field to the potential danger related to cyanide usage in the process of recovering silver from X-ray film, sic code 3341.

In February 1983 a fatality occurred at the Film Recovery Corporation located in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. The autopsy revealed high levels of cyanide in the deceased employee's blood. The operation recovers silver from X-ray film through an electroplating process which uses sodium cyanide. The film is chopped and mixed with the cyanide solution. In this particular case, engineering controls, industrial hygiene practices and personal protective equipment were absent thereby exposing the employee to the hazard of cyanide through inhalation, ingestion, and skin absorption. The exact exposure route of entry was not determined; however, it is well known that mixing acid with sodium cyanide will produce hydrogen cyanide gas.

When investigating operations involving silver recovery from film, Compliance Officers should be alert to the hazard of cyanide. Particular attention should be given to ventilation controls, acceptable work and industrial hygiene practices, personal protective equipment, respiratory protection and training employees. Impervious clothing and a positive-pressure, supplied-air respirator or a positive-pressure self-contained breathing apparatus are necessary for protection against hydrogen cyanide gas. When possible, signs, symptoms and exposure must be thoroughly investigated.

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