Removing Mold from Books and Paper
Public Health Issues
Mold can be very damaging to books and papers in archives, libraries, and document collections. There are also potential public health issues that must be addressed. There are more than 100,000 species of mold and some are very toxic. It is advisable to contact a professional Indoor Air Quality consultant or a mycologist to determine if the mold is a risk to human health. Institutions may be held legally responsible for illnesses and death associated with exposure to mold. Consider quarantining the effected areas or closing the library until it is determined that the environment is safe for users, library staff, and others working in the facility.
Staff in the Epidemiology branch of the Division of Public Health, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, can refer you to qualified consultants to identify the species of mold and offer recommendations for removal. The department’s web site also contains helpful information about mold.
Occupational & Environmental Epidemiology
Division of Public Health
NC Department of Health and Human Services
1912 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1912
Mold and Human Health
Epidemiology in North Carolina
Guidelines for Removing Mold
People removing mold from books, paper, or other surfaces should wear a respirator to reduce the risk of infection. Even non‑toxic mold can cause respiratory problems. People with asthma or immune deficiencies should not participate in mold removal. Pregnant women should also be excluded. Other protective measures include wearing gloves, safety glasses, and lab coats.
Cleaning mold can be very labor intensive and costly. Consider discarding books or records that you would have weeded this year. Clean only what you will keep. If you don’t have sufficient staff to remove the mold consider hiring a commercial vendor. A list of disaster recovery vendors is available on U.S. National Archives and Records Administration web site. Interview vendor representatives carefully and ask for references. Call their recent customers to inquire about their satisfaction with services.
U.S. National Archives Disaster Response Vendors (see disclaimer on their site)
Another option to explore is calling for volunteer assistance from your parent organization, colleagues in your network or consortium, professional associations, or the general public. Remember the liability issues.
Items with active mold, which appears wet and slippery, should be frozen or air dried before cleaning. Dry, inactive mold, should be removed with a HEPA vacuum. Inactive mold may also be brushed off, but care must be taken to limit airborne spores. Refer to the recommended readings below for more details regarding mold removal.
If mold damaged occurred as a result of a federally declared disaster your institution may be eligible for financial reimbursement of expenses through the FEMA/NC Public Assistance Program. Contact staff at the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management or the Federal Emergency Management Agency for information. The brochure, Resources for Recovery, is also a good source of disaster related financial information. It is available online and in print.
Public Assistance in North Carolina
North Carolina Division of Emergency Management
Public Assistance Program
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Resources for Recovery
Post-Disaster Aid for Cultural Institutions
To stop mold growth and prevent it from returning it is imperative that temperature and humidity be maintained at levels that keep mold dormant. Temperature in collection storage areas should be kept at or below 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Relative humidity should remain between 40 % and 60 %. Inform your administration that your collection is a valuable business, educational, historical, or cultural asset. Maintaining proper temperature and humidity levels is a justifiable expense. The cost of removing mold and replacing materials could be far higher, and damages to the institution’s reputation and public relations may be incalculable.
These Internet resources are recommended for more in-depth information:
Emergency Salvage of Moldy Books and Paper
Northeast Document Conservation Center
Managing a Mold Invasion: Guidelines for Disaster Response
Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts
Invasion of the Giant Spore
SOLINET Preservation Services
Mold as a Threat to Human Health
Mold: A Follow-up
Hilary A. Kaplan
Georgia Department of Archives and History
Contact the North Carolina Preservation Consortium for additional assistance or information about mold removal.
North Carolina Preservation Consortium
PO Box 2651
Durham, NC 27715-2651