Archives vs. Mould: Facts on Fungus

Have you ever opened your fridge to discover something green and fuzzy inside? Or opened an old book and been hit with a strong musty odour? Chances are you have come into contact with mould.

Mould spores occur naturally outdoors and you come into contact with them every day. But in an archival setting indoors, it’s a much different story. Problems begin when the spores come into contact with collection material in an environment that nurtures their growth. Besides the physical damage that mould brings to the material, mould can also affect your health. With this in mind, there are certain precautions you need to take when handling contaminated material.

Fortunately, most of the mould that we come across in the holdings of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is dormant. This means the spores are in a state of hibernation because the humidity level and temperature are carefully controlled. Ensuring that the environment is not favourable for mould activation and growth is one of the main factors we consider when storing collection material.

All treatment work is done in a biological containment hood after freezing the contaminated material for 48 hours at -35^(0) Celsius to ensure that the mould is inactive before cleaning. Because mould contains pigments that can cause staining, treated material often does not look any different than untreated material. For this reason, material that has been cleaned is clearly identified with a “Treated for Mould Contamination” label.

However if, during a visit at LAC, you suspect that the collection material you are handling is contaminated by mould, the rule of thumb is that it is best not to disturb mould. Therefore, you must immediately stop handling the contaminated documents! Then:

Report the problem to staff immediately; and

  • Leave it to the staff who will take the appropriate actions such as segregating and sealing the material in a plastic bag to ensure that the mould does not spread.

The most important thing to remember is to protect yourself. The following is a list of protective equipment you can use when handling personal documents affected by mould:

  • gloves (Nitrile™ or latex);
  • mask respirators (specially designed and fitted to filter out spores);
  • lab coats;
  • goggles.

As long as you use common sense and take the necessary precautions when dealing with contaminated material, you should be fine, and with any luck, most of the mould you encounter will be limited to the inside of your fridge.

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!