42nd Annual Meeting – Workshop, May 28, "Responding to Mold Outbreaks after a Disaster"

This full-day workshop comprised 4 talks by 3 conservators, all experienced with treating mold affected artworks or library/archive materials. The morning session was presented by Olivia Primanis, Senior Conservator at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas Austin. Primanis gave a large amount of introductory material focusing on aspects of mold that are of interest to Heritage Conservators and Caretakers. An introduction to mycology provided a basic understanding of fungal characteristics and the life cycle of aspergillus, one of the mold genera most commonly found after flood events. Details of fungal anatomy such as conidia/spore sizes were also discussed, as were activators of conidia – the conditions that encourage rapid growth. Fungal genera found on artifacts, as illustrated in Mary Lou Florian’s book Fungal Facts, was also briefly discussed. Primanis also discussed whether it was necessary to consult with fungal experts, such as industrial hygenists, who can take samples and identify the mold species. While species identification may inform mitigation treatments, it appeared that the presenter did not do any species identification during any of the case studies presented, and all mold outbreaks were treated using the same method of HEPA vacuuming to remove the visible mold, in some cases followed by attempts to neutralize the remaining microscopic elements using a 70% ethanol solution. Rather than attempt to “kill” the mold, Primanis vacuums and then works to optimize the environment to stop or slow mold growth, as historic mold killing treatments have been found to either stay in the affected material and affect users, or could potentially adversely affect the object itself.
In addition to a lengthy bibliography and access to additional downloads via a shared Dropbox folder, Primanis also provided a useful list of options to consider when responding to a mold infestation:
• What is the cause of mold growth and how can the growth be stopped?
• Should an expert, such as an industrial hygienist, be consulted?
• Should the type of mold and bacteria be identified?
• Should the mold be killed?
• What are the health and safety issues for staff and patron?
• Should the mold, and can the mold, be removed from affected building materials and artifacts?
o What methods can be used to remove the mold contamination?
o What methods can be used to assure the cleaning process has been effective?
o What will access to building and collection materials be?
The second presentation was by Ann Frellsen, Book and Paper Collections Conservator for the Emory University Libraries, a member of AIC-CERT as well as organizer of HERA (Heritage Emergency Response Alliance) in Atlanta, GA. Frellson discussed AIC-CERT response after Hurricane Katrina as well as HERA regional response activities, presenting a variety of challenges through a series of case studies. Response activities after tornado destruction in Atlanta highlighted challenges in establishing salvage priorities, as the emotionally affected owners of the collection were incapable of making those decisions, as well as communication issues. Post-Katrina AIC-CERT response inside a historic house on the Gulf coast illustrated the essential need for proper PPE, in this case including full HAZMAT suits equipped with a forced-air system. Another case study discussed how affected town record ledgers containing property data needed to remain accessible, as people were required to consult them in order to obtain proof of ownership as required by their insurance companies. A mold event at Emory University discussed the need for managing contracts with salvage companies, emphasizing that their activities may need to be closely monitored, and you need to know exactly what you want from them.
Ann Frellsen and Vicki Lee (Director of Preservation and Conservation at the Maryland State Archives and AIC-CERT member) teamed up to give a short case-study presentation cleverly titled: “Where We Did Not Find Mold, or, I Suited Up for This?” This presentation consisted of a series of images from flood/water response activities that provided the ideal circumstances for rampant mold growth (such as wet photos in plastic sleeves, wet salvage items left covered in plastic, and wet basement library items relocated to a non-climate controlled backyard shed), but exhibited no visible mold growth.
Another short presentation, titled “Creative Solutions: Thinking Outside the Box (the boxes have not shipped yet)”, presented examples of stabilization treatment ideas that developed from specific needs, such as the creation of a quick-fix solvent chamber at the Cultural Recovery Center in Brooklyn (post Hurricane Sandy) in which solvent sensitive moldy artifacts were treated by placing them in a Ziploc bag with solvent soaked cotton balls overnight. The efficacy of the treatment was not determined. Another attempt to wash and deacidify a paper item tried using crushed and strained calcium vitamins in an attempt to develop a buffering solution bath – the pH was tested at ~pH 7.5. This may be because calcium vitamins comprise calcium carbonate, not calcium hydroxide, but perhaps there were some other steps involved in the experiment that were not mentioned.
Questions from the audience:
Q. How effective is spraying an alcohol solution, when papers are general soaked in baths for 30 min?
Answer from Presenter: No testing was done to determine effectiveness, but it visually appeared to work.
Answer from Audience member: Alcohol treatment only kills surface mold via dehydration. To kill the fungal organism inside of the object or paper fibers, it needs to be put in an anoxic environment for at least 5 weeks using CO2 or Argon gas, which ruptures the cells. If you don’t kill all of the mold (not just the surface mold), then you will have dormant mold under the upper structure.
Q. Was it worth spraying then?
A. Yes, because it minimizes the spread of the spores. You can potentially maintain dormancy by controlling the environment (if possible).
Q. Should you spray, vacuum, and spray again? Vacuum, spray, vacuum?
A. Generally, spray, vac, spray, unless obviously very dirty, then vacuum first so that you can access more of the surface mold.