‘Minor’ Disasters Can Cause Major Damage

Does your disaster plan include ‘minor’ disasters, such as accidental damage and leaks? Do you think you only need to prepare for major catastrophes? Seemingly small incidents can cause significant damage to your collection. Recently, an unnoticed drip from a HVAC system at the City of Edmonton Archives caused significant water damage to and mould growth on archival records, boxes and shelving units. Approximately forty boxes were affected by this issue and all affected boxes were bagged to contain the mould. The material was triaged by City of Edmonton Archives’ archivist Tim O’Grady while the boxes were being bagged. The sorting was based on degree of wetness, degree of mould growth and if the material had been previously reproduced.


Example of mould found on bound archival item and box. Photo credit: City of Edmonton Archives.

After everything had been bagged, we* began drying the material. Each bag was opened and each box was examined. Most of the paper records were damp and not saturated with water. Items were removed from their folders and placed between blotting paper to dry. The blotting paper stacks were rotated and cockled blotting paper was changed. The majority of mould found on the paper records was found in the folder or box and minimal mould was found directly on the paper. Documentation was extremely important during the drying process, especially since the boxes and folders needed to be discarded. We had a scribe take notes on the original box and folder numbers as well as the file’s current location. This information was also written on the blotting paper where the records were placed to dry. Original order was maintained throughout the drying process.

Jayme Vallieres and Amanda Oliver removing the textblock from the binding. Photo credit: City of Edmonton Archives.

Jayme Vallieres and Amanda Oliver removing a textblock from its binding. Photo credit: City of Edmonton Archives.

Unfortunately, the bound material was most negatively affected by the leak. Mould was present in the box and on the front and back covers. Some items had mould on the endpapers, but most items did not have mould within the textblock. Items covered in mould were handled in an isolated space away from the collection. Jayme Vallieres, ASA’s contract paper conservator, removed the textblock from the binding of all affected bound items in the archives’ loading dock. Every item was photographed before the front covers, back covers, and some endpapers were discarded. The bound items were then dried upright using supports found on site. One large bound item required interleaving with absorbent paper (newsprint) to promote the drying process. The newsprint was changed multiple times as it became saturated.

Bound material drying upright. Photo credit: City of Edmonton Archives

Bound material drying upright. Photo credit: City of Edmonton Archives

The shelving units were bleached to clean mould from the shelves. Fans and dehumidifiers were placed in the room to help promote drying. The material is currently drying nicely. The City of Edmonton Archives is now in the process of hiring a contract conservator to surface clean all of the records to remove the mould. Cold storage is recommended until then to deter future mould growth. All of the material is salvageable.

This is a reminder to inspect your vaults on a regular basis and examine any potential water sources, such as pipes and HVAC systems, for leaks. Mould growth can occur within 48 hours of contact with moisture so check your vaults often. You may also wish to incorporate your integrated pest management system into these checks by looking for any signs of pests. In addition, it is extremely important to have disaster supplies on site in case of an emergency. Thankfully, ASA and the City of Edmonton Archives had blotting paper on hand to dry the affected material. No disaster is too small to prepare for!

The Lead Team Logo
*City of Edmonton Archives staff and ASA’s Amanda Oliver and Jayme Vallieres

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