Ann Kearney began the meeting with an overview of what mold is, how to identify it, and how to protect your collections. Cher Schneider followed with a case study of a May 17, 2001 flood at the New York State Archives records center and how the institution dealt with clean up. Kevin Costigan described his experience dealing with mold at two much smaller organizations with limited resources. Slides from Ann and Cher's presentations are linked in the Resources section below.
Cher described the affected area of the building as having three feet of water due to a large leak when the air conditioning chillers were turned on. This happened on a weekend, so it was 24 hours before it was discovered, and mold begins to grow on items 48 hours after getting wet. Boxes had soaked up so much water that they could weigh as much as 100 pounds. The staff had to ensure that both the shelves and the floor could handle the added weight before sending people in to salvage material. The added water also caused many items to swell, causing boxes to break.
Cher noted that disasters are always going to be more expensive than the quotes vendors provide because there are many other things, such as supplies and additional staff hours, that can add to the cost. It is a good idea to make connections with vendors prior to a disaster. Some companies try to take advantage of people in an emergency situation. Be clear on what an estimate includes. Document everything before and during the recovery process. It is also a good idea to do an annual disaster supply check and resupply. Items can expire or be taken from a supply cache, and you may not discover this until you need the supplies.
After cleaning mold, the institution makes monthly mold assessments, Several items from the affected areas are randomly pulled and checked for mold to make sure it is not returning.
The Office of Cultural Education is looking at water detection systems. They have not yet found one that is a good fit. Most have just a physical alarm, which is not useful for off-site storage or when the building is closed.
Kevin discussed his work at the National Park Service's Franklin Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt Historic sites. The Theodore Roosevelt site was especially humid because it in on the shore on Long Island and had no air conditioning at the time. In environments like this, it is important to be aware of humidity levels so you can monitor items when the levels get high. The site used HOBO dataloggers to keep track of the temperature and humidity. At times, humidity levels would rise to over 80%, and mold would grow on some items.
The site did not have resources for professional recovery vendors when they discovered some moldy items, so they did the work themselves. You should kill the mold before you clean moldy items so you do not spread live mold spores to other items. The site did not have access to a freezer, so they treated the items with sunlight. They spread the material out on tables in direct sunlight. They kept affected textiles out for a shorter amount of time because they are more susceptible to light damage than other items. An added benefit of working outdoors is that it lowers the risk of people working on the collections being affected by the mold since most institutions do not have a fume hood to work under. After sunlight treatment, they cleaned items with a Nilfisk vacuum, which has adjustable settings.
Cher recommended using a deep freezer that goes to -20 degrees Fahrenheit to stop mold growth. If that isn't available, you can use sunlight and/or air-dry materials by spreading them out.
An attendee asked a question about foxing on books. Although foxing is sometimes caused by mold that is present in the papermaking process, it does not lead to mold in books and documents that have foxing.
The speakers all recommended that institutions purchase boxes from archival vendors, as they hold up much better after exposure to water. Out of 2500 boxes affected by the 2021 flood at the New York State Archives records center, only 350 had contents that had to get mold remediation treatment. the boxes absorbed so much water that it often did not get to the contents of the boxes. The speakers usually have good luck with Hollinger and University Products boxes. They recommend testing sample boxes before making a large purchase.