Help I think we have a fungal/mould attack...how do I know and what do we do?

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Category: Pests
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Posted by Conservation Answers(Questions:33:Answers28)
Answered On 16 February, 2014 5:34 am

Damage as a result of fungal/mould attack can be devastating. They digest and break down the materials they feed on. In the process:

• Paper, textiles and wood etc become weak and eventually crumble away.
• Pages of books become mashed together as digestive enzymes attack many layers of paper at once.
• They stain paper and textiles.
• They attack photographic gelatine, and destroy the photograph.
• Fungi can produce toxic chemicals which can cause allergies and illness.

What Can Be Done To Control Fungi?

Preventing fungal spores falling on objects is impossible. In view of this we must concentrate our efforts on making the environment unfavourable for their development into a fungal colony. This can be done by controlling the relative humidity. If the relative humidity is maintained at a sufficiently low level – ie. below 70% – spores cannot germinate.

Steps that can be taken include:

• Move any items that are against damp walls or in contact with cold surfaces where the local relative humidity may be high enough to permit fungal growth. Even in a temperate climate external walls can become cold a damp.

• Ensure there is adequate ventilation in storage and display areas – in tropical areas breezeways are vital.
• Ensure that the microclimates in display cases are suitable, and will not create a favourable environment for mould growth.
• Inspect collections regularly – do not let the mould grow for months before you find it.
• Ensure the building is well maintained – check for problems such as broken pipes, blocked gutters, rising damp from damaged water mains, broken sewer pipes, inadequate damp coursing and leaky roofs.

If A Fungal Outbreak Does Occur

• Isolate the affected material immediately – if possible place it in a plastic bag and seal the bag.
• Determine what caused the relative humidity to be high enough to allow mould growth and take steps to correct the problem eg. create lower relative humidity microclimates.
• Cleaning should be done using the brush vacuum method- seek instructions from a conservator before attempting to clean any item.
• Dry the sample out when possible. Provide good air circulation. Use photochemical techniques (exposure to UV light for a short period of time) to kill the mold. Remove the dry spores via brush vacuuming. Clean the area after treatment for decontamination.
• Assess the need for use of any solutions that may contain a chemical that activates conidia, e.g. alcohols and glycols.
• If carrying out an aqueous treatment, dry them as quickly as possible according to conservation standards.
• The main aspect to decontamination is physical removal of the conidia and the hyphae and mycelium.

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