Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Shoe Boxes of Old Letters, Photos and Papers -- Part Four

Water Damage

Water is one of the most insidious enemies of paper documents. Damage from water is not limited to catastrophic floods, even high humidity can be ruinous. When I was living in Argentina, all of my leather goods started to grow mold. This problem was even worse when we lived in the Republic of Panama in the jungle. But you don't have to live in a jungle to have a mold problem. Here is an example of a document I found at the Maryland State Archives. Even if you are diligent in storing and protecting your documents, they are not always immune to mold damage.

Because this infestation is along a fold in the document, it probably originated before the document was archived. The black, sort of fuzzy, material is an active infestation. Here is another example.

I have been given photo albums that were so covered in mold that they could not be opened or viewed without difficulty. Here is a definition of mold from a article entitled, "Identify, Prevent, and Remove Mold and Mildew from Books."
Mold: Mold is a type of fungus that can and will grow on anything, as long as it can find a food source and the appropriate humidity for its development. It can develop in patches of threads, thick spider-webs or fuzzy spots, and it appears most often on natural, porous surfaces such as cotton, linen, silk, wool, leather, and paper. It reproduces by sending out clouds of spores, hence it's ability to “leap” from book to book.
You probably have mold growth on your book if you observe any of the following problems:
  • the presence of fuzzy growth, in just about any color you can imagine
  • stringy, white filaments stretching across porous surfaces
  • evidence of past water damage
  • strange spots or stains
Not all spots or stains are mold, but almost all of them are. The word "mold" (or "mould" in some countries) is a generic term for microbes found in the taxonomic divisions of  Zygomycota and Ascomycota. In the past, most molds were classified within the Deuteromycota. See Wikipedia: Mold. Mold is ubiquitous. I have even had a severe fungal disease known as "Valley Fever" or Coccidioidomycosis

Since both direct contact with water and high humidity combined with warm temperatures create fertile growing conditions for mold, there are some rather simple things you can do to prevent infestations. Here is a list of suggestions from the website article
Humidity is the number one condition for the growth of mold and mildew. It is the moisture in still, quiet air that allows mold spores to grow and spread. Think of dank basements, musty attics, or clothes left in the washer too long – these are prime mildew-growing habitats.
  • Keep your books on a shelf that gets a decent air flow, not in a closet, basement, or against an outside wall of the house.
  • Maintain good air circulation by using fans. If possible, use an air conditioner during the hot summer months and a heater during the cold winter to maintain a temperature around 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius).
  • A dehumidifier should help to keep the humidity under 60 percent, but only when necessary. Books that are too dry can be damaged and crack.
  • While houseplants are a lovely addition to a room, your library might be better off without them; or at least keep them away from the bookshelves.
  • Dust the tops of your books regularly, as a clean surface is less attractive to spores.
  • Some book collectors swear by the light use of lavender essential oil directly on the bookshelf as it is an anti-fungal, but this will scent the books and may cause discoloration.
  • It is also suggested to keep a small, electric light burning in your bookcase, but this can also cause discoloration to your books over time.
I do not agree with any solution that involves light. I will address the damage caused by light in a future post. I also do not agree with using any type of oil or any other substance to "prevent" mold. They may work or not, but they will cause additional damage to the paper documents or books. 

When handling documents or books that are infested with mold, it may be wise to use a filtered face mask and gloves. But in the cases of small infestations, washing your hands may be sufficient. You can really get into mold. Several years ago, there was a large lawsuit in Texas over a mold infestation that resulted in a very high jury verdict in favor of the Plaintiff. This case set off a national flood of mold cases. Within a year or so,  as a trial attorney, I was handing dozens of potential mold claims. However, the insurance companies began eliminating mold coverage from their policies and the cases simply stopped being filed. There is still a residual amount of litigation, but from our perspective as genealogists, we are more concerned with preservation and remediation than litigation. 

I am listing several articles on mold remediation that will help to understand this issue. However, be careful to filter out the scare tactics used by some remediation companies that will want to charge you to decontaminate your home and duct system. In some cases, where there are people with respiratory conditions, such as asthma, air purification and other extreme measures may be warranted. Here is a statement from the Harvard Library about the human health risks.
Human Health Risks
Some molds that grow on library collections pose a health hazard to people. Mold spores are introduced to the human body by inhalation and through small breaks in the skin. Although serious consequences are rare, active mold can cause respiratory problems, skin and eye irritation, and infections. Such reactions may result from short-term exposure to high concentrations of mold or long-term exposure to low concentrations. Mold poses the same potential health hazard whether active or dormant. The degree of risk from exposure to mold is determined by a person's general health and pre-existing sensitivity to mold, as well as the concentration of the mold bloom. Staff members with compromised immune systems or known sensitivity to mold (e.g., allergy to penicillin) should not have contact with active mold.
Here are the articles.
Here is an informational video about damage to paper suggested by one of my sons. 

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