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Subject: Mold health hazards

Mold health hazards

From: Robert J. Milevski <milevski>
Date: Thursday, September 29, 1994
In response to the mold spore thread:  I would like to relate two real
life experiences.

#1)  Four or five years (or more) ago I had to move a rather large pile
of wood mulch, at least two cubic yards, which had been sitting in our
front yard for months.  Early in the mornings the pile would be
steaming, doing what it was supposed to do, decompose.  When I first dug
into the pile with my pitchfork, a mass of steam exuded/exploded from it
as well as a bunch of other stuff which could have only been clouds of
mold spores, in retrospect, actually hours after the occurrence.  Well,
I did not use a mask of any sort while doing this.  Later that day I
became ill, got the violent vibrating chills.  I was all shook up.  I
was bedridden for several days, afterwards, because of this careless and
unsafe episode.  (Isn't it awful to realize, when you are doing
something, that you are not doing it right, you damn well know you're
doing it wrong, but you carry on anyway because you're too lazy to set
it up to do it right after you've realized that there is a potential
problem?)  I concluded that it must have been the mold spores.  Since
that time I have been sensitized to mold, as well as organic solvent
vapors, and have gotten the same symptoms after working with these
materials over the years since then.

#2)  Several years earlier than the above episode I was interning in a
book conservation lab.  The conservator gave me something to work on, I
don't recall what, which needed some chemical treatment with ethanol.
The conservator thought that ethanol was a relatively innocuous
chemical.  I performed the treatment, being the neophyte that I was
then, at my bench, which took several hours, if my memory serves,
without the safety benefits of fume hood or respirator. Afterwards, I
started to get intermittent white flashes in my peripheral vision.  I do
not recall the incubation period for the start of this occurrence.  Nor
can I directly prove that the ethanol caused this effect, but this is
the causality I believe.  The flashes lasted for months.  Then they
stopped.  Maybe because I had not been working with ethanol since that

I have learned my lesson(s) and use a mask regularly now, whether
working with attic insulation or piles of mulch.  Recently, I had to
clean a lot of 20+ year-old ceramic tile (which is no longer available)
of its adhesive (in order to re-use it in a bathroom remodeling) and had
to use lacquer thinner to do it.  This stuff is really noxious.  I
bought a disposable organic vapor respirator to do the work, and I used
a fan as well to blow the fumes away from me.  I felt better about doing
the work prepared thusly, but I was not thrilled about doing it at all.
Also, I had to train a fan on the tiles days afterwards to assist in
volatilizing the residual solvent in the tiles.  (The tiles were soaked
in the thinner for more than eight hours.)  You choose the moral from
these tales.  What did Forrest Gump say?  "Stupid is as stupid does."

Robert Milevski
Preservation Librarian
Princeton University Libraries

                  Conservation DistList Instance 8:23
                Distributed: Friday, September 30, 1994
                        Message Id: cdl-8-23-003
Received on Thursday, 29 September, 1994

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