Survey on Acquisition, Treatment, Access, and Storage of Moldy Materials

Olivia Primanis

There were nine responses to the "Survey on Acquisition, Treatment, Access, and Storage of Moldy Materials." The survey was posted on PADG [2319] and Cons DistList (17:59) in March 2004. Respondents to the survey included paper and book conservators, and a rare book librarian. They represented institutions in the U.S.A., Canada, and Australia.

Best practices that were mentioned include remedying environmental conditions that cause mold growth in collection storage areas and on collection materials and removing mold from infested materials before staff or patron use. Mold is removed from collection materials using techniques and equipment that do not damage the materials; that do not expose staff to mold; and that do not spread mold in the building.

Fungal Facts by Mary Lou Florian (Archetype Books, 2003), Mould Prevention and Collection Recovery: Guidelines for Heritage Collections by Sherry Guild and Maureen MacDonald (CCI 2004), and Art, Biology, And Conservation: Biodeterioration of Works of Art by Robert J. Koestler, Victoria H. Koestler, A. Elena Charola, Fernando E. Nieto-Fernandez (Yale University Press 2004) are excellent sources of information on mold and remediation.

Responses to this survey reflected a range of institutional approaches, from casual to aseptic, toward collection materials that are infested with mold or bacteria. In summarizing the responses, I included additional comments from respondents that were pertinent or helpful. I asked a few respondents to elaborate on some of their procedures and I also have included those contributions in the results.


*Will you acquire or accept collection materials that you know have obvious mold and bacterial infestations?

Nine institutions accept some or all moldy materials.


(1) No materials with active mold are accepted; materials must have been cleaned.

(1) After materials are acquired they are evaluated; materials that are seriously damaged are discarded.

(1) Although formal policy states that moldy materials are accepted, in reality, no moldy materials are accepted.

(1) Moldy materials are selectively acquired depending on their importance.

(1) Notes that they do not knowingly accept any materials that were bacterially infected.


*Do you use any methods, such as a fungicide or irradiation, to kill mold or bacteria on cultural artifacts, or in your building?

None of the institutions used a fungicide or irradiation to kill mold or bacteria on collection materials.


Thymol (until 2 years ago at one institution) and ethylene oxide fumigation were mentioned as having been used in the past by some institutions.

At some institutions non-collection furniture and building materials are cleaned with a bleach solution, or with a 30/70% ethanol/water, or with "quats." (Quats are quaternary ammonium salts in solution. They are used on non-collection materials only, instead of bleach because bleach solutions contain a lot of water and with careless use can damage records if splashed on them. Quats are used by hospitals to kill bacterial and fungal growths. One brand and supplier of quats is Environcide from Lab Safety. Guidelines on the MSDS are followed.)

*Do you use any methods to remove mold odors from collection materials?

Three institutions do not remove moldy odors. Six institutions used various techniques including: kitty litter or clay litter, zeolites, and Microchamber™ board.


(1) A low-dust variety of kitty litter is spread in the bottom of a photo tray, a barrier paper such as sheets of Reemay™ or a sheet of blotter is laid across the litter, the item is placed on the barrier paper, and the "chamber" is sealed with a sheet of Plexiglas™.

(1) Uses zeolites packaged for home use from, for instance,

(1) Found that zeolites did not work.

(1) Materials are aired out using clay litter, with or without the aid of a fume hood. Spacers are placed between the pages.

(1) Experimenting with boxes made of Microchamber™ board for odor removal.

*Do you identify the mold genus or species before treating infested collection materials?

At this time, none of the institutions identify the genus or species of mold on collection items.


(2) According to the institutional policy, any mold, regardless of species, is treated as a possible health problem to be remediated or isolated.

(1) Identifies a genus or species in the event of someone becoming sick after encountering the mold.

(2) Identified mold following an outbreak in the building, but not on collection materials.

(1) Notes that they do not have the expertise to identify species.

*Do you clean materials by aspiration or other means?

Eight institutions clean moldy collection materials with a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner.


(1) Notes that it uses a micro-vacuum with a water trap for detailed work under a microscope.

(1) Following treatment with a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner, ethanol/water is used on items that can be treated with it.

(2) Use ethanol/water on collection materials. One follows the ethanol bath with a water bath if feasible. (Note: A 70/30% ethanol/water solution can be an effective biocide. Florian p. 36, 37. Ethanol can dissolve, and cause to bleed, many types of media.)

(2) Brush mold off the items, one into a wastebasket (Currently not considered a "best practice") and the other treats materials with ethanol following brushing.

(1) Uses an activated dust cloth.

Further comments on aspiration:

The type of vacuum cleaners mentioned were the Nilfisk GM 80 with variable speed control and micro tools, and the Omega Vac.

To protect fragile materials, nylon screening is placed over a moldy item to protect it from damage by the force of the suction of the vacuum.

*Do you have dedicated workspace, equipment, and protective gear for staff who treat mold-infested materials? Describe.

A variety of special-built or designated workspaces, equipment, and protective gear and procedures are used to clean moldy materials.


(1) Space, equipment, and gear include a dedicated room with a dedicated ducted fume hood, a dedicated photocopier (if a general copier is used, it is cleaned with quats following use), and a Nilfisk GM 80 with accessories. Staff wears either N-95 masks or fitted respirators.

(1) Space, equipment, and gear include a designated room with an air extraction system (The air is pulled from the back of the work surface through a HEPA filter, before it recirculates.) and a Nilfisk GS 80 vacuum with variable speed adjustment. Staff wears fitted half-face respirators or N95 dust masks, goggles, Tyvek™ hair covers, Tyvek™ booties, Tyvek™ coveralls, Tyvek™ aprons and nitrile gloves. Final clothing selection depends on personal assessment of potential exposure.

(1) Space, equipment, and gear include a specially designed (by a consultant) room to clean moldy and dirty materials and a separate isolation room where questionable materials are held until they can be inspected fully. Both rooms have floor drains so they can be hosed down, if necessary. The rooms are on a separate HVAC zone so the air is not mixed with other areas of the building. Staff that work with moldy materials are fitted with respirators, gloves, and aprons.

(1) Space, equipment, and gear include a 1,500 sq ft. dedicated segregation room located near a loading dock. The room is under negative air pressure, so air enters the room, stopping air that might be contaminated from flowing out. Within the segregation room is a 15'x15' tiled room for working with moldy materials. The tiled room has a water source and a central drain and is washed down after working with moldy materials. Staff wears Tyvek™ suits, hair covers, shoe covers, gloves, masks and goggles.

(4) Use undedicated fume hoods, some of which are in conservation labs. In two of the institutions staff wears goggles, nitrile gloves, a mask or respirator with HEPA and organic vapor filters, and Tyvek™ coats. In the other 2 institutions, dust masks, gloves and lab coats are available.

*Do you regularly monitor air quality in the workspace with the equipment running to ensure that the mold is contained?

None of the institutions monitor air quality in the workspace to ensure that mold is contained during the cleaning process. Some respondents interpreted this question to mean the library building rather than the treatment area.


(1) A conservator inspects work areas regularly and regularly trains staff.

(1) A health mycologist has approved the equipment and procedures.

(1) It was believed that a room with negative air pressure would contain the mold; moreover, carts entering the room are washed down with Lysol (including wheels) to reduce contamination to other areas.

(1) The fume hood used for cleaning moldy materials receives normal servicing every 6 months.

*Do you verify (by analytical testing) that the surfaces of materials that have been cleaned are free of fungal structures and metabolic parts, such as conidia and beta glucans?

Eight institutions do not verify that surfaces are fungal free following cleaning. One institution verifies that the items are free of fungal structures when working on individual items; there was no elaboration about verification techniques.


(1) The safety officer believes that it is impossible to completely clean every spore out of the web of paper fibers. Therefore, previously infected records are isolated to safeguard human health and to stop the spread of mold to other records. The cleaned records are kept in climate-controlled areas to stop the reinfestation of mold.

(1) Voiced concern about conidia that might remain on artifacts after cleaning.

*After cleaning, are the moldy items provided with special housings? Are surrogates made?

Seven institutions provide some type of housing and labeling for moldy items after they are cleaned.


(1) If the records are fragile, they are housed in polyester and kept in document boxes that are specially labeled. The labels note that the records were moldy and have been cleaned.

(1) Records that may pose a biohazard are encapsulated.

(1) Moldy material is wrapped in about 6 mil of polyethylene sheeting and labeled to indicate a possible health hazard and the level of protective equipment required. After the loose spores are removed from the materials, the items are wrapped in paper or plastic and labeled to indicate a potential health hazard and to recommend the use of protective equipment.

(1) Moldy records are photocopied. The original materials are saved but restricted from use. Records that cannot be adequately cleaned are placed inside a plastic bag and a labeled document box. Books are photocopied (e.g. microfilmed, scanned, or photocopied).

(1) Some kind of isolating wrapper with a hazard-warning label is provided for all material that has been mold damaged.

(1) After cleaning, moldy items are provided with new housings. If the mold was very severe, depending on the type of item damaged, a digital surrogate might be made and then the original will be discarded.

(1) Only items that are physically deteriorated by mold are housed.

(1) It has been found that the book covers are often beyond saving. If salvageable, the text blocks will be sent to the commercial binder for a new case; special collection items are treated in house.

(1) Housings are made so that items are safe to handling. Most flat paper is placed in polyester sleeves; severely deteriorated items are lined. Newspapers are sometimes microfilmed and books/pamphlets are housed in binders or a phase box.

(1) Mold found on the bindings is easily wiped off and does not cause any damage to the cloth or leather.

(1) Moldy items are reproduced only if they are fragile.

*Do you treat all moldy items as they are identified or do you clean them only when they are requested?

Eight institutions treat moldy items either as they are identified or before they are served to a patron. A few respondents mentioned that there was not enough staff to find and treat moldy items throughout the collections.


(1) Some moldy records are not scheduled for permanent accession. If they are never requested, isolation is the only necessary treatment for those temporary records.

(1) Staff are investigating being trained in the appropriate cleaning methods.

Access- Staff and Patron Use

*Do you have dedicated workspace, equipment, and protective gear for staff that process and examine collection materials? Describe.

In two institutions, staff has been instructed to bring moldy material to the conservation lab. Four institutions do not have a dedicated workspace for library staff to work on moldy collection materials.


(1) Staff segregates the moldy from clean records. The workspace and equipment is cleaned with quats afterwards.

(1) Staff uses a processing room where incoming items are checked off and documented. If a problem is found, the conservator is called in for advice.

(1) If the individual staff member has indicated that dust or mold is an issue, masks, gloves, and lab coats are provided.

(1) Designated staff member has a respirator and gloves to inspect items. Moldy materials are isolated in Microchamber™ boxes and stored in a quarantine area in the stacks.

*Do you identify mold infested collection materials with a label?

Three institutions identify moldy materials with a label, 2 identify some of the materials, and three do not identify any moldy materials.


(1) A restriction is noted in the finding aid so retrieval’s staff can set up alternative access arrangements if required for records that haven't been cleaned or copied.

(1) Some items are labeled to indicate the source of the damage.

(1) The conservator noted "we'd run out of labels if we identified items that are or have been affected."

(1) If damage is visible, a note will be appended on the inside cover that the book has been treated.

*Do you restrict patron use of mold and bacteria infested collection materials?

All institutions restrict patron access in some manner to items that have been infested with mold.


(1) Researchers are informed in writing about previous mold infestations in collection materials to avoid health problems in sensitive individuals. Surrogates are offered, but sometimes only the original suffices. Personal protective equipment is offered.

(1) The patron is generally provided with a surrogate of mold-damaged items and access to the original material is made on a case-by-case basis. Workspace in a fume hood and personal protective equipment can be provided.

(1) Items are restricted if the materials are physically damaged.

(1) Patrons are informed that a collection can harbor mold residues.

(2) If the item has been vacuumed, it is issued.

(1) Moldy items are restricted, but in some cases curatorial staff may not always be able to properly identify mold.

One respondent elaborates: If someone is allergic, asthmatic, or has a compromised immune system, any level of exposure to mold may be a problem. How would one determine if someone you just met fell into one of those categories? HIPPA regulations may prevent your asking if an individual has a health problem and many people are asymptomatic. Employees also have privacy rights and do not have to disclose health issues. Notification in writing would protect these individuals and it could also serve to protect an institution from lawsuits.

*Do you have an institutional release waiver that patrons sign before using materials that are infested?

None of the institutions had a release waiver that patrons sign before using infested collection materials. Note that one institution issues patrons a notice in writing if collection materials are mold infested.

*Do you have dedicated space, equipment, and protective gear for patrons who use collection materials that are mold infested? Describe.

None of the institutions had a dedicated space for patrons to use when accessing moldy materials, although, almost all had official and substantial options to offer the patron. See responses to the question:

*Do you restrict patron use of mold and bacteria infested collection materials?

Environment and Storage:

*How and where do you store infested materials?

In most institutions, moldy items are either cleaned or sequestered in some manner.


(1) There is dedicated space to house infested materials. For instance, until a new facility with a dedicated space is finished, a rented air-conditioned trailer has been used.

(2) Moldy collection materials are stored with the general holdings but isolated in plastic.

(1) Severely deteriorated items are deaccessioned. Materials with evidence of previous mold damage are shelved with the rest of the collection.

(1) The conservator commented that mold is not an infection that can be spread by "bad" books but is the result of a defective environment.

(1) The temperature is maintained at 60 degrees F and the RH at 35%, so new outbreaks are not an issue.

*Do you have an ongoing program to monitor mold levels in your collection storage areas?

Five institutions use environmental monitoring programs to monitor storage areas.


(1) Areas known to leak are inspected on a routine basis and advanced dataloggers, the Preservation Environment Monitors (PEM) are used to document humid conditions.

(1) The Climate Notebook, which has a program that can calculate the risk for mold in the immediate area being monitored, based on temperature and RH data collected by the PEMs is used. In addition, problem areas where leaking has caused mold damage are continually checked.

(1) They monitor if there is an environmental emergency.

(1) Storage areas are monitored by visual examination and checks.

Study and Research

*Are you involved in any research about the conservation treatment of mold or bacteria infested collection materials?

One of the nine respondents has been researching the control of mold in humid climates with notable success by improving airflow in the building. No other research was mentioned.

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