X-ray Film Processors Introduction

Traditional x-ray film processing (developing pictures) uses large amounts of water to rinse chemicals from the film and to cool the processing equipment.  The medical profession represents the largest users of x-ray film processors, though other industries also use them.  Larger hospitals may possess more than a dozen of these units.  Processors generally use a constant flow of water to cool the machine and develop the film.  Published flow rates for this equipment range from as little as 0.25 to as high as 2.5-gallons per minute of potable water .  This equates to 130,000 to 1,300,000 gallons per year per processor (492 m3 to 4, 921 m3).  A dozen processors in a large hospital could collectively consume more than 10 million gallons per year.

New technologies represent a significant opportunity to reduce or eliminate water use of film processing in medical applications.  The water efficiency of traditional processing can be greatly improved by recycling the water for use in the equipment.   The advent of digital imaging (using virtually no water) is gaining popularity as the technology improves and replaces traditional film processing equipment.  Usually, supplanting film processing with digital imaging  is based on ease of use and image transfer; not water savings.  Because water saving alone cannot justify the high cost of new digital imaging equipment; the focus of water conservation strategies is the installation of water recycling equipment to improve water efficiency of traditional film processors.

Metered savings from water recycling installations have revealed a range in savings from 500,000 to 1,612,000 gallons per year per processor (1,892.7 m3 to 6,102.1 m3) retrofitted .   The initial installation cost of the water recycling systems is approximately $5,000, with additional maintenance and supply costs estimated to be more than $1,200 per year.   The benefits include both water and wastewater savings.   There are five main factors when analyzing the cost-effectiveness of this strategy:

A. avoidable cost of water for both the utility and the medical facility,
B. avoidable cost of wastewater water for both the utility and the medical facility,
C. lifecycle cost of the recycling equipment and annual maintenance,
D. expected continued use of the processer (will it soon be replaced with digital imaging?), and
E. the cost-sharing arrangements required for retrofit project to result in net benefits for both the utility and medical facility.

CUWCC (2004) Potential Best Management Practices (PBMP) Report – Contains a section on X-Ray Film Processors