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The recent traffic on this list regarding PVA prompts this preliminary and
probably very cursory response from someone who has had a few days of
experience with the material, both as a very active bookbinder, conservator
and as a equally active vendor, until recently, when the vending activities
were transferred by purchase to another party.

In a nutshell, I can tell you from my own experience that the problem of
PVA going bad is of recent origins.  Together with a hand bookbinder in
Seattle, Washington who had concerns about the adhesives available for so
called conservation standard work, I helped design a PVA adhesive which was
manufactutred by a local adhesive manufacturer and used by me myself as
other bookbinders in the area beginning in about 1977 or 78.  That
formulation had no apparent shelf life and the material remained useful
until expended.  Indeed, there are ample folks in this region who have used
this PVA as long as FIVE (5) full years after purchasing it.  I count
myself among those who would testify to its longevity.  It never smelled,
it never got thin, it was just plain damned good adhesive, doing everything
a danmed good adhesive should do whenever called upon to do it.

And so, when I determined that it might be a good idea to provide supplies
to the growing number of folks who were having the same difficulties that I
was in my fledgling bindery--obtianing reliable goods in maneageable
quantities as reasonable prices--I chose the PVA I was using as the PVA to
offer for sale.  And all was well for a awful lot of years, and then, the
family owned company was sold, by the individual who founded the firm in
the 1920's.  Not long after that, the first complaints about the PVA began
to surface.

The shot story of all of this stuff is that Colophon (my old company)
recalled a gob of the stuff that had been sold BY us to you folks because
the stuff was not what it used to be.  We were told by the NEW manufactures
of the product we had sold for twenty years all sorts of things about why
the new stuff went haywire.  In the end, none of it made sense to this
chemically aware individual and we severed our business relationship,
largely because the manufacturer had lost our confidence.

Incidentally, and not unimportantly, the MSDS's in our files on this
product show a change in two things about the time that the new management
took over the ancient firm: the shelf-life had changed materially; and, the
quantity of formaldehyde in the material was specified for the first time.
And so, what to do.

One looks for alterntives.  And one of the alternatives we evaluated was
Jade 403 made by the AAbot Adhesives Company in Chicago.  In the end, no
better.  The product was substituted for that which we were using and we
bagan to receive the same complaints.  And so the process has continued,
with every source of PVA being evaluated to the extent that the information
provided by the manufacturer allowed, coupled with field tests by ourselves
and our customers.

The conclusion to which one must come, given the facts as I know them, is
that the formulation of the manufactured material has been altered in such
a way as to affect its shelf-life, and that formaldehyde is now an active
ingredient in the material when before it either was not or was in such a
small amount as to be insignificant.

And all of this leads to another problem.  I have learned over time that
American manufacturing is a multi-tiered affair.  People make things which
other people use to make other things.  Rather like binders using paper of
unknown specification to make journals and logbooks and other things which
find their ways into archival applications when in fact the product is
acidic as hell, nevermind the best intentions of the binder.  So, when one
calls the adhesive maker, ABBOTT, for instance, and inquires whether the
put formaldehyde into their adhesives, they will say, of course not.
However, and this is important, the makers of the vinyl resins (the
polymers mentioned in one of the recent transmission on this subject) do
indeed use it, and they probably do use to stabalize the resins so they
will not auto polymerize, which means that the stuff solidifies on its own,
without warning and without known reason.  The adhesive manufacturers are
legally safe in telling one that they, the manufacturers do not add the
toxic material, while they know full well (I believe) that the toxin is in
the product they sell.  And the material is unsafe enough to be a labedled
carcinogen.  So, the newest MSDS imply a minute presence or nothing at all,
depending on the company.

As a point of fact, there once were several manufactures of the co polymer
resins from which PVA is made.  Now, as I have been told, there are two:
Union Carbide and Rhom & Haas.  This information has not been corroborated,
but it makes perfect sense.  It it then to the resin manufacturers that one
should turn to find out about why the new pva adhesives are going south so
soon after purchase.

I have also been told that the smell arising from the adhesive does

Clearnly, then, the only safe thing to do is to purchase as little of the
material as you think you can use within 30 - 60 days (which is the average
shelf-life of the new material) and apply the rules given by others about
drawing a working quantity of adhesive from a stock jar and NEVER returning
any of the working adhesive into the stock jar.

Hope this will help.  It is not a pleasant situation for any of us: vendor
to supplier or vender to purchaser.  It happens because everything in this
country by way of business is being consolidated:  made larger and larger
by eating up, like pacman, all the smaller entities who have become too
small to survive.

Hoping that this lecture will be of some help to you in understanding a
very serious problem I close, for now

yours in service

don guyot, formerly Colophon Book Arts Supply


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