Archive for March, 2010

Mold: The Whole Picture
Pt. 1

by Ellen McCrady

Mold is fascinating, despite the fact that it can be destructive and unhealthy, even deadly sometimes. For me it is an intellectual challenge, almost like playing a magical game of chess with an opponent who can become invisible, change into an animal and back again at will, or continue making his moves after he is obviously dead.

(This is not as imaginative as it sounds. Some mold can change at will into a form with a different species name. It can even change into yeast, and back again. Its color and other visible features depend on the temperature of its environment and what it has been eating. The toxins and volatile organic compounds released by the organism continue to affect competing species, including humans, after the mold itself is dead.)

We know what mold can do to collections, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Mold is also a problem in medicine and public health, agriculture, composting operations, indoor air quality, building construction, historic preservation, and even social history. Considering all these together, its importance is immense, and a growing amount of research in many of these fields reflects this. A conference on mold in any one of these fields attracts specialists from other fields, and an intense cross-disciplinary exchange of information can result, which is quite stimulating.

Knowledge about mold is not only fascinating and important, but it is scarce in our field of library and archive preservation. People who care for collections have to cope with the aftermath of floods, chronic mold growth in their collection, and building-related illnesses, often without expert advice. When the situation calls for administrative action and expenditure of money, as all three of these examples do, who can they call upon to put their case before administrators? We need more bridges linking us with fields where research is done or expert services performed, to help us find knowledgeable people to advise us.

One final reason why I have roused myself to prepare this series on mold: The house I bought here in Austin seven years ago has had a mold problem. The chimney and fireplace smelled of mold; so did the area behind the clothes dryer; and the wooden deck and the clapboard siding were rotten.

Then a few years ago I started getting allergic reactions to the mold toxins in the air, and my memory, balance and ability to concentrate were affected. I knew I had to get rid of as much mold as I could. I had the deck replaced, several rotten windowsills repaired, the chimney capped, the dryer vent replaced, and the drainage around the edge of the house improved. I had two exhaust fans installed (including one at the top of the chimney), began leaving windows open a crack here and there, and (most important) began setting the air conditioning to a warmer temperature to minimize condensation on the outside of the house. Finally, I bought an air purifier for my bedroom. My memory, balance, concentration, and the quality of my sleep have all improved noticeably.

The moisture problem is still not under control, because the house “sweats” visibly on summer mornings like a glass of ice tea and the air is sometimes bad despite all the improvements. The rotten siding and possibly some insulation and structural members still need to be treated or replaced. That will be Phase Two.

Topics to be Covered in Later Instalments

Definition and assessment of mold problems
Cleanup, reconstruction, treatment
Sources of water or mold around buildings
Correcting construction flaws and building conditions that encourage mold growth
Preventive maintenance
Effect of mold on human health
Sources of information

Mold in Human History

The Ergot Epidemic

In her book, Poisons of the Past: Molds, Epidemics, and History, Mary Kilbourne Matossian (a history professor) presents overwhelming evidence that the population of Europe was held down for 500 years by endemic mold-induced food poisoning called ergot or ergotism. Although most sources attribute this long epidemic to fungi in the genus Claviceps, she also gives credit to the genus Fusarium. Both genera infected rye kernels before and after harvest, producing toxic, long-acting alkaloids (e.g., ergotamine).

In northern Europe the poor, who lived on rye bread and little else, were the most affected. Women miscarried and children died frequently. Those who survived childhood had chronic illnesses, gangrene, and mental disturbances. Their hallucinations and seizures were interpreted as witchcraft, possession, or divine inspiration. No one knew that their diet was responsible for their misfortune. Not until wheat and potatoes began to replace rye did the epidemic abate.

Wealthy households were never affected as much as poor households, because their servants prepared the grain as gruel, boiling it over a fire for about a half hour, which broke down the toxin. They also enjoyed a more diverse diet, including meat and white bread.

Ergot was responsible for the low birth rate and high death rate in Europe from perhaps as early as 1250 to 1750. It even provided occasion for the Salem witch trials, because the early settlers of Massachusetts planted rye, ate rye bread, and experienced hallucinations and seizures just as the Europeans did. Even as late as 1945, ergotism was still retarding the population growth of Russia.

As a strong influence on population and quality of life in Europe for half a millenium, mold had a massive effect on the course of history. (Matossian’s book is fascinating! You can buy it for $23.90 from Books Now by calling 1-800-266-5766, ext. 1494.)

The Irish Potato Famine

The potato was introduced to northern Europe in the 1700s, and is credited with the quadrupling of Ireland’s population between 1740 and 1840, because it could support three or four more people per acre than wheat could. The potato blight came in 1845 and returned at intervals thereafter, causing widespread famine and the loss of half Ireland’s population by emigration and starvation in a period of 47 years. This time the mold did not sicken people, as the ergot had, but it killed the plants that provided them with food. The result was an Irish diaspora.

Public Health Measures in Biblical Times

The very first mention of mold and mold cleanup is in the Bible: Leviticus, Ch. 13, verses 1-46 (isolation or purification of people with skin diseases); verses 47-59 (mildewed clothing must be burned); and Ch. 14, verses 33-48 (mildew “with greenish or reddish depressions” on the inside wall of a house). The rabbi did inspections and acted as the public health officer.

The mildewed walls were to be remedied, according to Chapter 14, by tearing out the contaminated stones and throwing them into “an unclean place outside the town,” then scraping the remaining inside walls and throwing the scrapings in an unclean place. The old stones are replaced with new, the house is replastered and then monitored to see whether the trouble recurs. (In previous translations, the rather vague word used for any skin disease was translated as “leprosy.” This translation uses “mildew,” but the word should not be taken too literally.)

The text can be found on the International Bible Society’s web site, http://bible.gospelcom.net/cgi-bin/bible.

Mold and the Good Things in Life

Food and drink fermented by mold have been prepared almost everywhere in the world, since before written records began: mead (fermented honey), wine, beer, cheese and more.

In medicine, certain toxins produced by molds to deter rival microorganisms have been put to use by humans: penicillin and ergotamine, for instance. Ergotamine is now sometimes prescribed for migraine headaches, because it causes overdilated arteries in the brain to contract, thus relieving the pain.

There are other ways in which molds have been useful to people, but none of them relate to preservation of collections, so we will move on.

The Organism

Fungus is the umbrella term for mold, mildew, mushrooms, yeasts, and puffballs. Fungi have a kingdom all to themselves, like plants and animals. What they all have in common, for starters, is that all their cells have one or more nuclei, and none of them have chlorophyll, so they can’t make their own carbohydrates.

Mildew is a popular term for visible mold in the home, but mycologists use it only for the molds that infect plants, like downy mildew.

The term mold applies to the microscopic members of this kingdom whose lifestyle involves putting out root-like rhizomes, releasing spores, and living in colonies. Although they are handicapped by their lack of chlorophyll and their inability to move around, they have compensated in a number of ways by their metabolic and reproductive versatility.

If they find themselves in a less than ideal situation (say, on an agar plate, away from their favorite food, with too much or too little light, the wrong temperature), they are likely to switch to a nonsexual method of reproduction (one not involving swapping or combining of genetic material) for the duration. This can make them hard to identify, since species are classified by their sexual characteristics (e.g., kind of spore cell wall, spore-producing cells, and sacs that store cells).

There is some evidence that fungi are responsible for foxing on the paper of old books, despite the fact that the brown spots don’t look like mold colonies. A reason offered for their drab appearance is that the dry interior of a book is not an ideal growth environment, even for xerotolerant or xerophyllic species.

Any given mold species may be able to reproduce by two or more different methods: budding off from mycelial fragments, or release of sexual spores, asexual spores and conidia.

Conidia are asexual spores that are not formed inside a sporangium (sac), but by budding out or converting from an existing cell. They provide the organism with a way of producing rapidly and cheaply. They are produced in great numbers by fungi in the class Ascomycetes. Species in this class also produce sexual spores in abundance, within specialized cells called asci.

An example of a species with reproductive versatility is Penicillium brevicompactum, which can hybridize on its own, even though it is known as an asexual fungus.

Whenever a fungus formerly thought to be only an asexual form is found to be the same as a sexual form with another name, the name of the asexual form is supposed to be dropped, so that both forms can have the same species name. However that may be, the chapter in the ACGIH handbook that is written by Burge and Otten provides separate names for both forms of nine genera (e.g., Emericella for the sexual form and Aspergillus for the asexual form).

If all this seems confusing, I have accomplished my purpose: to demonstrate that we would do better to focus on more familiar, practical applications, and leave mold species identification to the experts. In fact, I intend to recommend leaving several additional matters to the experts when they come up in future installments.

We still have to be able to generalize about mold when we are dealing with a situation or talking with each other, of course, but we should always be aware of mold species’ complexity and variety.

A few generalizations that I have seen in the literature or heard at meetings are presented below. They may contradict each other, either because so much is still unknown, or because the experts disagree, or because one is addressing a general audience and the other is addressing a professional audience. Then come some references to websites that provide both general information and specific information on characteristics of mold species. Seven books on mold are listed at the end of the Literature section.

The ideal mold environment is 32°-104°F, pH 3 to 8. The relative humidity is less important than the dew point or the water activity (free water) of the substrate. Requirements for air and light vary. Some fungi prefer a temperature range between 15° and 30°C; others below 0°C; and others prefer 35° to 50°C. [i.e., some like it below freezing; some like it as warm as 122°F; and some like it in between].

Different solutions [to the mold problem] in turn create diverse habitats for mold growth. Indeed, moulds are endowed with a miscellaneous enzymatic arsenal; as a result, there is almost no habitat that they cannot colonize. Even in dry climates with advanced ventilation or air-conditioning technologies, fungi will still find what they need to grow and reproduce.

Since fungi cannot make their own carbohydrates like plants do, they have to eat foods containing carbon; also, complex nitrogen compounds, and many elements, e.g., phosphorus, sulfur, manganese, and probably also copper and iron, since foxing spots often contain minute fragments of these metals. They release enzymes to digest cellulose, protein, and fats. Certain species are used in the paper industry to digest lignin in wood chips, leaving the cellulose intact. Molds can grow on virtually any substrate, including jet fuel, paint, rubber, textiles, electrical equipment, glass and stainless steel. Sometimes, as in the case of glass and steel, the nourishment offered by the substrate is only the dirt and grease on its surface.

Airborne fungi have spores that vary from three or four micrometers to 60 micrometers. Since one micrometer [micron] is only one millionth of a meter, spores cannot be seen without a good microscope. Spores may remain viable for a matter of minutes to many years; those of Aspergillus and Penicillium sometimes remain viable for over 12 years, air-dry at room temperature.

Release of spores is encouraged by a change in the relative humidity for some fungi. Release mechanisms that depend on rupture of moist, swollen cells are activated by a high RH. This is true of spores from Penicillium and Aspergillus, two of the most common indoor genera of mold. The number of spores in the air can be multiplied a hundredfold or more by foot traffic, use of vacuum machines and other cleaning equipment, or a higher level of ventilation. Most molds are not poisonous, but since there is always a mix of species, one cannot rule out the presence of toxins in a growth of mold.

Almost all mycotoxins are either airborne particulates or compounds produced in the tissues of the host by means of genetic material brought in by the spore. Some are able to suppress the human immune system.

There are hundreds of known or suspected mycotoxins, but the list could turn out to be in the thousands. Several have gained some notoriety, for instance Aflatoxin B1 and Satratoxin H. The species of a given genus may produce only one type of toxin (e.g., Aspergillus species, which produce only aflatoxins) or they may produce many (e.g., Penicillium species, which produce more than 100). Sometimes they will fail to produce their toxins in the lab, and sometimes they produce in the lab but not necessarily in the field. In addition to toxins, some molds produce synergizers (sometimes called potentiators) which exaggerate the effect of toxins; one of these synergizers is ethanol. Synergizers may be harmless in themselves. The smell of mold comes from the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) produced by the organism. Opinion differs on whether they are toxic or not. A 1988 study by J. David Miller et al. identified seven VOCs from a culture of Penicillium fellutanum, by GC-MS analysis. They included pentane, heptane, octane, 2 hexanone, and undecane. Over 500 VOCs from various fungi have been identified.

Indoor fungi are often xerotolerant or xerophyllic (tolerating or preferring low humidities), though the whole spectrum is present.

Websites & Listservs

Univ. of Minnesota, Environmental Health & Safety. A “Fungal Glossary” gives basic facts and references for five pages of genera & species.

the Aspergillus Web Site

Environmental Microbiology Laboratory. Gives lots of specific information on 40 or so mold genera; not very accurate regarding Stachybotrys.

Eastern NY Occupational & Environmental Health Center. Gives ordering info for Bioaerosols Conf. proceedings, 1994 & 1998.

Mycology Online. Provides links to Mycological Resources on the Internet, Really Big Index to Mycology Resources on the Internet, The Classification of Fungal Genera, Index of Fungi, and other sites.

Author: Tom Volk, U. Wisc., La Crosse. Good on basic stuff; lovely pictures; fun to read because of his contagious enthusiasm.

[I am indebted to Dr. Phil Morey for his comments and suggestions on this instalment -Ed.]

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Mold found growing on a water damaged support beam beneath the museum's floor


MAR. 7, 2010


PHONE: (830) 444-0523


Since the discovery of mold inside the Douglas Fairbanks Museum’s new building over a month ago, museum staffers have been busy packing and moving the collections to safe climate-controlled storage offsite. The move was completed in mid-February.

“I’m happy to report that the collections do not appear to have suffered any damage as a result of the mold infestation,” museum curator Keri Leigh announced at the March board meeting in Austin. “Luckily the problem was discovered early on — about 10 days after we moved in — so we hadn’t uncrated any significant artifacts or hung anything on the gallery walls yet. We were so fortunate in that sense.”

The unfortunate news is that the museum’s planned re-opening, originally scheduled for March 1, has been postponed indefinitely pending repairs to the sick building. Extensive mold remediation, moisture intrusion repairs and replacement of key structural members will be required before the building can be safely opened to the public.

It’s obviously a major health issue,” Leigh said. “In addition to the dangers mold poses to the museum’s collection itself, my biggest concern is the health risks to staff and visitors.

“Most of the museum’s visitors have always traditionally been kids and the elderly, and those are the age groups most suceptible to harm from mold,” she explained. “Until the mold is remediated and the underlying moisture problems are fixed, there’s just no way we can continue to occupy this building or even consider opening it as a museum.”

Evidence of severe water damage, rust, dry rot and mold found under museum sub floor

Numerous case studies have shown mold to pose serious health risks to normal, healthy persons. The effects are even more severe and dangerous to the elderly, small children and infants, persons with compromised immune systems, asthma, breathing problems or mold allergies.

To make matters worse, Leigh herself is highly allergic to mold. Shortly after moving into the home in January, Leigh soon found herself suffering spells of dizziness, difficulty breathing, loss of short term memory and motor coordination, unexplained fatigue, joint pain, swelling of her face and extremities, skin rashes, and flu-like symptoms that just wouldn’t go away.

“For a couple of weeks there, I thought I just had the flu.” Leigh says. “But my symptoms weren’t getting any better and I couldn’t figure out why I was having all these other symptoms but no fever. It didn’t make sense.”

Then the mold was discovered about a week later. “While that was the worst news possible for the museum, it was kind of a relief to at least know what was making me so sick. As someone who has dealt with severe mold allergies from birth, finding out the home was ridden with mold explained all those symptoms. So at least I knew what the cause was, but of course it didn’t help me feel any better.”

“The only thing to do was for me to get myself and the museum collections out of the house as fast as possible.”

Leigh and museum staff quickly packed up the museum’s artifacts and put them in safe storage offsite. The next step was to get Leigh moved to temporary shelter for her own health.

“Once I got out of the house and into a mold-free environment, I started feeling better immediately,” she said.

But Leigh still has to travel to the museum frequently to deal with business matters once or twice a week. “It’s amazing – almost as soon as I step in the door, I’ll start sneezing. My eyes get all puffy and watery and it’s hard to breathe,” she says. “Within an hour or two I’m itching and scratching and have red bumps coming up on my skin. My brain will start to feel foggy and I can’t concentrate. The effect is instantaneous. So I’m trying to spend as little time here as possible.”

Severely water, dry rot and termite damaged wooden sheathing in attic

Although she is terribly disappointed, Leigh has come to accept the fact that the museum will not be opening in the building anytime soon. The repairs needed to remediate the mold, fix the moisture intrusion problems, and stabalize the structure are too extensive to be performed while the building is occupied.

“It’s really sad,” Leigh says. “I had such high hopes for this place just a few short months ago. It’s a lovely old Victorian home and I saw a lot of potential for the museum here. To find that this grand old house has sick building syndrome just breaks my heart because I love historic homes and hate to see something like this happen to them. It’s entirely preventable with proper care, conservation and maintenance. If homes are not cared for, these types of problems – termites, mold, wood-destroying organisms – set in and eventually just overtake the whole house.”

“It’s sort of like a cancerous growth in your home,” Leigh explains. “Early detection is key. If you can find the cancer early and remove it, it’s much less likely to come back. If it is not caught until the late stages, the cancer will spread like wildfire and be much more difficult and costly to get rid of. It may recur again and again, or it may prove fatal.”

For now, Leigh is just relieved that her health is improving and the museum’s collections are safe. “Luckily we discovered the mold and moisture problems quickly before the collections were uncrated or on the walls,” she says.

“While this is certainly a nightmare, it would have been so much worse had we actually been open to the public at the time. I have often shuddered to think of one artifact getting damaged or even one visitor or staffer getting sick from the mold. One is one too many,” says Leigh. “So I guess we were fortunate, if we try to look on the bright side of this.”

While Leigh looks for the bright side, the museum’s future hangs under a dark cloud. With grants and donating funding for nonprofit arts and cultural groups at an all-time low nationwide, many small museums like the Douglas Fairbanks are having to close their doors, either temporarily or permanently.

“The last two years have been particularly tough for us,” she says. “With the downturn in the economy, many of the funding sources we could always count on for support were either cutting grants altogether or giving much less. And the trend across the country is for even more cuts to arts, culture and educational organizations.

“When I see the Governors of big states like California and New York closing major parks and recreation facilities, and shuttering museums and libraries due to massive budget cuts, I really have to wonder how a small private museum like ours is going to stay afloat in this economy.” 

“Right now, our greatest obstacle is to have a permanent location that we can call our own,” Leigh explains. “We thought we had one here, and then we discover the building needs repairs to extensive for us to stay in it. So we’re basically right back to square one — using temporary office and exhibit space until we can settle into a new home.”

Leigh says just having a bricks-and-mortar location would most likely save the museum. Even in these tough and uncertain economic times, Leigh feels that the museum can stand on its’ own two feet without taxpayer funds.

“We’re always been self-supporting,” Leigh says. “The museum has been open since 1998 and has never accepted any public funds. All of our funding comes from donations and grants from private individuals and businesses, admission fees, gift shop sales, fundraisers and special events. We’re very proud of the fact that we’re not a burden to the taxpayer.

“We believe that if the silent film and local community think we provide a valuable service to the public, they will support us, and they always have before,” she says. “These are just tough times for everyone. We’re trying to weather the economic storm, like everybody else.”

The museum also raises additional funding from licensing and duplication fees charged to film producers and book publishers seeking to reproduce items from its’ collections, as well as fees charged to other museums when artifacts are loaned out for long-distance and traveling exhibits. The museum also has an online gift shop where Fairbanks fans can purchase books, DVD’s, apparel and memorabilia, with a percentage of sales going to the museum. “Every little bit helps right now,” Leigh says. “Especially when we don’t have a building that is open to the public where we can raise funds through admission fees, events, and the gift shop.”

“Our first priority now has to be finding either temporary or permanent space for the museum to operate,” she says.

Will the museum eventually return to the old house on St. George Street? Leigh says it’s possible.

“Sure, once the home is repaired and stabalized structurally, we could move right back in.” She says. “But there is a lot of serious work to be done here before the house will be fully repaired, and who knows how long that’s going to take? By that time, we may well be in a new permanent location with a long term lease commitment. And that’s what I hope will happen, the sooner the better. Finding us a new building is my only focus now. We desperately need to get our doors open to the public again.”

Anyone who has a suitable historic home or building they would consider donating or leasing to the Douglas Fairbanks Museum is encouraged to email or call (830) 444-0523 to discuss a resident curatorship, possible tax incentives or other options for your property. The museum is willing to relocate anywhere within the United States.

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1890s vintage residence housing the museum in Gonzales, TX


MAR. 1, 2010


PHONE: (830) 444-0523



On January 1, the Douglas Fairbanks Museum relocated to Gonzales, Texas, after nearly four years of occupying temporary office and exhibit spaces during their search for a new permanent location.

The museum moved into an 1890s vintage home on Saint George Street in Gonzales, with 800 square feet of space donated to the museum for library and gallery space, along with separate housing quarters for onsite staff.

Plans were underway to re-open the museum on March 1, just in time for Texas Independence Week festivities.

Museum staff and volunteers were working fast and furious to uncrate exhibits when on one rainy day in January, somebody noticed a strong and unmistakeable smell in the museum’s entry hall — mold.

“At that moment, it was like the sound of tires screeching to a halt,” said museum curator Keri Leigh. “Everything stopped until we could investigate further and see how severe the mold problem was, and most importantly, until we could find out what level of action and resources was going to be required to fix it.”

Museum entrance hall (wall where mold was initially discovered is to the R of desk/chair).

Unpacking museum artifacts, January 2010


Photo of mold and water damaged sub floor directly beneath entry hall area

“So I put on my coveralls, got out the flashlight, camera, clipboard, toolkit and got to work,” says Greg Jackson, the museum’s onsite facilities manager.

Jackson, who was also a licensed structural pest control inspector in California for many years before moving to Texas, began inspecting the home top to bottom; taking samples of the mold with scotch tape and petri dishes for further lab testing to find out the exact types and levels of mold present within the structure.

“At first, we thought the mold was contained to just one wall of the home since we were only smelling it in that one area,” says Jackson. “However, once I inspected the attic and crawled the home’s sub area, it became clear that this infestation was far more widespread than we originally thought. Mold is present and live throughout the home.”

The inspection revealed extensive evidence of roof leaks in the attic – water had severely damaged the sheathing and in many spots had completely rotted out the wood.  Mold and fungus were found to be growing on wood and metal flashing throughout the attic area.

Jackson also found another surprise while inspecting the attic:  a severe termite infestation. “Apparently termites have found this home a delicious treat,” says Jackson. “They’ve obviously been eating here for several years, and have simply chewed a lot of the wood away. Between the water damage, dry rot and termite damage, it’s a real mess.”

Water, dry rot and termite damaged wooden sheathing in attic


Closeup of same area

Jackson was in for an even bigger surprise when he inspected under the house: “Turns out a little mold growing inside a wall was the least of our problems,” he said. “It’s not only inside that one wall, but is growing underneath the entire house.”

When Jackson inspected the subarea beneath the home, he found evidence of prior flooding which had severely damaged the flooring and sub flooring. “And because these are wood floors, they became a magnet for termites and fungi,” Jackson says. “I discovered extensive evidence of termite infestations, dry rot, mold and fungus all throughout the sub area.”

Jackson says that because these water problems appear to have been present for some time and were not treated or remedied before, the infestation has had lots of time to fester and spread, which is going to make treatment and remediation both costly and time-consuming.

But what concerned Jackson even more than the evidence of water intrusion, termites and mold itself was the damage these problems have caused to the home’s structural system and foundation. “Key support beams and piers beneath the home have been severely weakened in spots due to prior water damage, dry rot, and termite infestations,” Jackson reported. “Some of these key support systems are so weakened that they could fail at any time.”

Rotted wooden support beam rests precariously atop brick pier which is slipping to the R

Evidence of severe water damage, rust, dry rot and mold found under museum sub floor

Water damage, dry rot and mold on support beam

Moldy sub floor

Mold and termite damage to load bearing wall

Cedar support pier base exhibiting severe water, fungus and termite damage

 One area of particular concern to Jackson was the bathroom. Upon entering the subarea directly beneath, he made a startling discovery:  the floors were so badly water damaged that portions of the sub flooring had disintigrated away. 

“The wood in that area is so far gone that it literally crumbles into dust when you touch it,” Jackson says. ” The floor is in danger of collapse.”

“Ever since I made that discovery, I’m very nervous every time I sit down on the commode,” he said with a light chuckle. “Let’s put it that way.”

Jackson, who also lives onsite, had noticed previously that the bathtub was leaning slightly off-level and leaked water on to the floor every time the tub was used. “That’s not a really difficult repair to make, so I wasn’t too worried about that so long as it as attended to quickly,” he said. “But when I looked under the house and saw how extensively water damaged the support beams directly beneath the bathroom area were, I knew the problem was much more serious.”

“There’s nothing quite like the possibility that the tub or commode could just fall through the floor to get your attention,” Jackson said. “Someone could get seriously hurt or even killed just using the bathroom, and that’s a risk the museum obviously won’t take with the safety of its’ visitors.”

Severely damaged flooring and support beam under commode


Rotted flooring and cut support beam under museum bathroom

When Jackson turned in his inspection report and photos to the museum’s curator, Leigh was shocked by what she saw: “Needless to say, this was not good news,” she said.

Mold is a museum’s worst enemy,” Leigh explained. “For a museum like ours where the majority of our collections are very old and porous paper products such as newspapers, books, posters, photographs and documents, mold just attaches itself to them. It feeds on cellulose. Air where the relative humidity (RH) is above 80% will support mold on cellulosics — cotton or linen — and most of our collections are made from those materials.”

Leigh has expressed great concern about high humidity levels in the home. Several months ago, even before the mold was discovered, Leigh was setting up an exhibit case in the main gallery when she noticed the gauge used to monitor humidity levels was giving off very high readings. “My thermo hygrometer was reading at 80-95%, based on the weather that day. On dry sunny days, the levels were at about 60-65%, but on humid or rainy days, the recorded humidity levels were just off the charts. I couldn’t figure out why.”

Leigh had also noticed excessive condensation appearing on glass doors and windows inside the museum, even on and inside the exhibit cases. “Now that’s a problem.” Leigh said. “You can’t have water droplets collecting inside an exhibit case filled with rare artifacts. Without airflow inside a case, those artifacts would start growing mold in no time.”

Extreme water condensation on windows in museum office

“So from all previous indicators, I could tell the museum building had some kind of moisture instrusion problem,” Leigh says, “but didn’t know just how widespread or severe the problem really was until I saw Greg’s photos and report of what was going on in the attic, underneath the building and within the walls. The whole building is a petri dish. Live mold and fungus are growing everywhere.”





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