Document Type



Although the fire risks associated with nitrate film stock are widely known, understanding of the relationship between nitrate decomposition and combustibility remains weak. This paper surveys the contradictory descriptions of decomposition and combustibility of motion picture film in current archival and safety literature, evaluates their sources, and compares them to descriptions by image stability researchers and chemists. Throughout, the author argues that the dialogue among the archival, safety, and scientific communities is inadequate and that no community has satisfactorily established the evolution of flammability as nitrate decomposes. The author concludes by outlining a plan for nitrate research and advocacy over the short, medium, and long terms.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

APA Citation

Heckman, H. (2010). Burn after viewing, or, fire in the vaults: Nitrate decomposition and combustibility. The American Archivist, 73(2), 483–506.