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If you are searching for information on eradicating mold or mildew damage relating to a building and/or its contents caused by a flood or heavy water damage, then all I can do is suggest that there are professionals that deal with this specific problem. At the end of this article there are additional informational resources that may be of help. This is definitely not a do it yourself job. This article is more focused on removing mold from photographs.

Mold can be hazardous to people with respiratory problems. Many can cause allergic reactions or irritate skin. Some species of mold/fungus are toxic, and in some cases exposure can lead to serious illness or even death. Consult an expert if you are unsure of what you are dealing with. Your insurance company should also have a list of qualified professionals whose training focuses on this area.

Mold and mildew are common terms for a type of fungus that attacks organic material, specifically the cellulose in the photographic paper that the emulsion sits on. At Yesteryear Memories, our focus on photo restoration has brought us into contact with the resultant damage that can be caused by mold. It has led us to the following observations.

Mold or fungus growth usually begins in the darker areas of the photo first and may be accompanied by a moldy smell. Mold grows from spores which are everywhere in our environment. Usually these spores are inactive, but they will germinate when the relative humidity exceeds approximately 70 percent and the temperature rises above 68 degrees. Most experts agree than the relative humidity should range between 25 and 50 percent at the most and to keep the temperature as low as possible. They also state that for every 18 degrees above freezing, the likelihood of mold doubles when the humidity is above 50 percent.

When mold growth is active it displays a slimy or fuzzy look and is usually black, but can be other colors. When it is inactive mold is dry and powdery and usually will have a white appearance. Mold spores spread very easily, as they can be carried by air currents. The damage caused by mold is usually permanent because it grows by “digesting” the cellulose in the paper backing of the photo. At the least it can make permanent stains.

We receive a high percentage of our mold damaged photos from the southern coastal states. But this kind of damage can happen anywhere when the conditions are right.

Since none of us live in a museum it would be impossible to adhere to the suggestions of the experts, but by keeping the photos in a constant temperature environment and the Relative Humidity low (below 50 percent) does a lot to reduce the possibility of mold growth.

Isolate moldy photos in a cool, dry location, outside if possible, with plenty of air circulation where they will not contaminate nearby items; do not return the photographs to their original location until the conditions causing the mold growth are addressed if at all possible.

Once the photo materials are removed to a less hospitable environment, the mold will become loose and powdery as the substrate dries and the mold turns dormant. It may then be gently brushed off the photographs with a very soft brush; because the mold is merely dormant, if it remains on the photos or is distributed throughout the space and onto other objects, it will grow whenever environmental conditions are favorable again. Mold should, therefore, be removed either outdoors (outdoors is best) or into a vacuum cleaner equipped with a HEPA filter -- regular household vacuum cleaners will merely exhaust and re circulate mold back into the room. If a vacuum is used be aware that the suction can irreparably damage photos that are brittle or already show signs of deterioration

Although any direct light source can be damaging, and cause fading, brief exposure to sunlight can stop mold growth and aid drying. Exposure should not exceed 1 to 2 hours. There is some trade off here - the limited amount of sun may fade the photo somewhat but will cause the mold to go dormant. This slight amount of time exposed to the sun should cause little if any noticeable fading.

Clean the mold only after it is dry and inactive. Very gently wipe or brush away the mold residue.

It is always --Safety First-- wear rubber gloves, eye protection, an appropriate respirator and clothing you can wash in very hot water and bleach or discard. Do not proceed with any treatment if any negative health effects are observed, no matter how minor they appear.

Valuable artifacts and photographs should be handled by a professional conservator.

Monitor the affected photos for a few months after the mold clean-up. If there is any reoccurrence and the mold has again become active, there may be no other solution other than to copy the photograph and dispose of the moldy one.

Nothing will replace your sentimental attachment to your original photos; however Yesteryear Memories will be able to reproduce your images so you can save those treasured moments. At Yesteryear Memories we can make copies of the originals, retouch them if necessary, and reproduce them to a condition as good or some say better than new.

For irreplaceable or historic moldy photos or artifacts or those with a high value, contact a preservation professional for advice. For a referral see: American Institute for Conservation's (AIC) Guidelines for Selecting a Conservator at: Stanford University - Select a Conservator

For general or more specific information on the preservation and conservation of artifacts and photos try searching the web at: Stanford University - General Publications

The Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation (FAIC)
1717 K Street, NW, Suite 301 Washington, D.C. 20006
Telephone (202) 452-9545 FAX (202) 452-9328
E-mail: info@aic-faic.org
Web Site: http://aic.stanford.edu/