Physical Deterioration of Records -3

  1. Water

Collections storage areas are frequently placed in attic or basement spaces which are most vulnerable to water damage in the event of a roof or plumbing leak, sprinkler system malfunction or flooding.  Leaks and floods can also irreparably damage records, causing inks and dyes to run and stain adjacent areas, pages to warp and stick together, and mold to form. Records should not be stored in areas that are prone to leaks and flooding. Never store records directly on the floor. Water damage can result from natural occurrences, technological hazards, or mechanical failures. Water leaks and floods are the most common causes of water damage, but can also simply be caused by spilling a beverage. Water damage causes warping and tidelines to your artifacts. The museum stores its collection at least six (6) inches off the floor and inside cabinets in anticipation of a leak or flood. Storing artifacts amd records off the floor and not placing drinks near your most treasured artifacts will drastically cut down on the danger of water damage.

  • Pests

Pests encompass both rodents and insects. Some also consider mold/mildew/fungi to fall under this category. Pests, such as microorganisms, insects, and rodents, can make a feast out of artifacts. They are attracted to artifacts made from plants and animals, such as paper and fabrics. They especially enjoy cardboard boxes, so best not to store any family treasures in them.  Pests are attracted to dark, cluttered, damp, and seldom disturbed places. Silverfish, firebrats, booklice, and cockroaches are commonly found in paper-based collections. Mold and fungi can grow on all types of materials, even inorganic objects like plastic.

Having a regular pest inspection to check for infestation is vital to preventing any damage. NPM only uses environmentally friendly pest control products and we never use aerosols due to chemical hazards.

  • Pollutants

Airborne contaminants in the form of gases and particulates jeopardize the preservation of collections. 

For repositories in urban areas, gaseous pollution from sources such as industrial discharge, motor vehicle exhaust, and other combustion products can be a serious concern. Gaseous pollutants can also originate indoors, given off by common substances such as paint, cleaning supplies, untreated wood, photocopiers, and certain kinds of adhesives and plastics. Various types of gaseous pollutants initiate chemical reactions that contribute to the deterioration of paper-based collections. These reactions are usually worsened when high relative humidity is also present.

Particulates come in the form of tiny solids grit, grime, smoke, dust which originate largely from industrial processes, vehicle engines, wood-and coal-fired heating systems, smoking, and cooking. They are generally abrasive and acidic and often highly reactive chemically. 

Photographs in particular are extremely sensitive to atmospheric pollutants. Particulate pollutants may cause abrasion of emulsions and attract mold or insects. Gaseous pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone, and formaldehyde contribute to sulfiding, redox reactions, and dye discoloration.

Pollutants can be natural or man-made gases, aerosols, liquids, dust or dirt that are known to accelerate decay of artifacts. Aerosols and liquids that are commonly seen around artifacts are household cleaners, bug sprays, and detergents. The chemicals within these sprays can attach to the artifact and will slowly cause it to decay. When cleaning near an artifact, spray directly onto the cloth, away for the object and then wipe down the surface.

Particulates and gases contaminate collections through the air or direct contact and may originate from inside or outside a building. Particulates are organic or inorganic materials such as dust, fibers, hair, skin cells, and soot. Particulates can be abrasive, acidic, and attractive to pests. Gases commonly enter a building from the outside environment, originating from the burning of fossil fuels (sulphur dioxide) or traffic exhaust (nitrogen oxides). Ozone is produced both outside and within building environments by photocopiers, laser printers, and electrostatic air cleaners. Common cleaning products, paints, adhesives, and even carpeting contain acids, formaldehyde, and peroxides that are damaging to collection materials.

Pollutants can be generated both and outside and inside buildings. Many pollutants known to cause human health problems can also cause damage in collections. The two general types of pollutants that contribute to the deterioration of museum collections are particulates and gasses. These can be airborne or transferred by direct contact.