Practically all film is on an acetate base. Slide film and negatives are
usually stored in ways that provide more than adequate ventilation or absorption
of the acetic acid so vinegar syndrome doesn't seem to be a problem, but it
certainly is for movie film.
Kodak magnetic tape smelled strongly of acetic acid when it was new, even
the polyester base. The entire plant where it was manufactured did. I haven't
seen degradation of even the triacetate based tape in my possession, but you
had better have good ventilation where you open a sealed bag of the stuff.
I just checked reels of Kodak 21A (2), 21P, 31A, and Eastman A 301. The
Durol (A - Triacetate) is translucent, though less so than other acetate. The P
tape is definitely opaque. One of the acetate reels was in an unsealed
plastic bag and it, and the 10" reels of 31A and A301 in their boxes, definitely
smelled of vinegar while the 21A unbaked in its box and the 21P did not
noticeably. I didn't try to run the tape to check condition but the packs were
uneven and there was a note in one indicating it was warped whenever it was last
used, probably a decade or two ago.
It is possible that the high concentration of acetic acid in a sealed bag of
slides and tape might damage the slides.
In a message dated 4/20/2007 2:27:54 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
[log in to unmask] writes:
Last week I opened up a plastic shopping bag that contained to things: a
slide carousel filled with 35mm slides and a reel of tape. The pair
form a slide-tape show on the topic of, apparently, maple sugaring.
The first thing to greet me was the pronounced stink of vinegar. Very
I assumed the tape was the culprit and put it aside to reek on its own.
However, upon holding it up to light later, I did not encounter the
usual acetate translucence--the pack was totally opaque.
This got me thinking about the slides again. Did Kodak (or anyone for
that matter, since the slides in the carousel seem to be a slightly
mixed bag) produce acetate slide film? Could the slides be going vinegary?
And about the tape--it's a 7" reel of 1/4" tape. Poorly packed. the
backing of the tape has "Eastman Kodak Co" printed on it. It's in a
black plastic Sctoch 211 box (the kind with the smoked plastic drop
front) and on a blue plastic Scotch reel. It is my guess that the
recording dates from the mid 1960s--this is going on information from
the donor (whose father made the recording).
This whole thing confuses me a bit because it undermines two basics of
what I've been taught on the matter::
1. Only acetate will develop vinegar syndrome
2. Acetate tape will appear translucent when held up to light.
I am forced to consider that it could be a polyester tape with a vinegar
problem /or/ an acetate tape that is opaque when held up to light.
If the slides are going vinegary, could the vinegar problem have an
impact on polyester-backed tape? Did Kodak make a non-translucent
In any event, after separating the tape from the slides, the slides
still stink, but not nearly as bad, while the tape (which admittedly is
somewhat sealed in it's case) stinks as bad as ever.
Vermont Folklife Center
3 Court Street ; P.O. Box 442
Middlebury, VT 05753
akolovos @ vermontfolklifecenter.org
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