The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 25, Number 2
Aug 2001


The Mold Conference in Munich: A Report

by Ellen McCrady

When the Munich conference, "Schimmel: Gefahr für Mensch und Kulturgut" was announced, I had a feeling it would be well worth attending, because its scope was broad enough to be meaningful ("Mold: A Danger for Humans and Cultural Artifacts") and I did not think there had been an international conference on the subject in Europe yet. This one was organized cooperatively by four German or Austrian conservation organizations: AdR, bdr, IADA and ÖRV. (Of these, IADA is the one that deals mostly with conservation of library and archival material.)

In the e-mail and other information I received before leaving for the June 21-23 conference, I learned that the general response to announcements of the coming conference had been so overwhelming that the organizers had to make ad hoc arrangements for a poster display area, and had decided to publish papers that could not be fitted into the program on the conference's website (http://home.t-online.de/home/pegod/home_en.htm). At first they thought maybe 400 people would come (as I recall); about 530 had registered by the time they ran off the list of attendees (with addresses!) and one of the organizers said later on that 600 actually came.

Only a few people came from the U.S. and Canada: Irene Brückle, Dr. Ralph Cavaliere (from Gettysburg College), Mary-Lou Florian, Hanna Szczepanowska, Stefanie Scheerer (from LA Co. Museum of Art), and me. Others who attended were Françoise Flieder, Robert Fuchs, Anna Haberditzl, Jozef Hanus, Beatrix Kastaly, Dag-Ernst Petersen and Renata van Issem. Mary-Lou Florian gave a workshop on June 24, entitled "Solving Fungal Problems in Heritage Collections," which was lively and well-attended.

Forty-three papers were presented, in five sessions: Identification of Fungi, Bacteria and Micro-organisms; Causes of Contamination; Object Damage; Prevention and Treatment Possibilities; and Health Protection. I came in late to most of these sessions, because of jetlag and the necessity of taking public transportation in a strange town. Even when I was there, taking notes, with the benefit of simultaneous translation for papers not read in English, it was hard to understand everything, or to read the slides projected on the screen. However, the addresses, telephones, faxes etc. of all the speakers and poster presenters are given in full in the book of abstracts, so one can always get in touch with them. There will be postprints, too (or possibly edited proceedings, I hope).

A couple of papers, including Jozef Hanus's in the first session, dealt with a problem that arises after a cleanup project is over: distinguishing the live from the dead mold cells. However, I thought the most interesting paper in the first session was Hanna Szczepanowska's on the mold in King Tutankhamun's tomb, which is in the desert. She said that when it rains, the water is funneled down the canyons next to the tomb, and is absorbed into the limestone bedrock, part of which makes up the walls on which murals are painted. She has identified several species of mold on the murals, studied the results of previous unsuccessful conservation treatments there, and will be looking at the paint in the murals to identify its nutritional value for the mold.

Jagjit Singh's paper was the first and best in the second session, "Causes of Contamination." It was also the best paper in the conference, in my judgment, because of its detailed, analytic approach, potential impact on the field, and clear and forceful delivery. I could tell he had given it often, because he delivered it from memory without missing a beat. He was the only speaker who did not use fumigation. His company, Environmental Building Solutions, Inc., has taken care of the royal family's castles and palaces in England for many years by drying out damp stone walls when necessary (which takes years, for the thickest ones), preventing the entrance and accumulation of moisture, and taking other sensible management steps—without fumigation.

Some quotes from Singh's abstract: "In the last century the management of fungal problems in both modern and historic buildings has largely relied on misunderstanding and misdiagnosis of the biology, ecology and physiology of the causal organisms.

"This has led to mistreatment, causing considerable damage to the health of collections, historic fabric and building occupants....

"Fungal problems in both modern and historic buildings are mainly the result of defects in buildings, lack of maintenance and gross neglect. Rectifying these defects and ensuring proper maintenance can provide long-term sustainable, holistic solutions to these problems."

In the third session, "Object Damage," I liked the paper by Ulrike Reichert best. It dealt with the use of a laser beam to remove penicillium and dry rot mold from two palliums (long woolen bands worn as a symbol of episcopal authority by early German saints) that had been hidden and moved repeatedly in the last two hundred years. The slimy "dry rot" could not be removed with chemicals, so an Nd:YAG-Laser was successfully used to clean most of it off. Results were checked with the scanning electron microscope. Attempts to culture remaining spores and mycelia failed, so they assumed that the laser treatment had deactivated them.

Two other papers in this section may be of general interest. Christoph Oldenbourg presented a case study of a painting that was so badly contaminated that he had to treat it first with fungicidal UV radiation.

Thomas Warscheid reported the ongoing examination and treatment of China's terra cotta army, which has suffered from air pollution and high humidity (especially from the tourists). His report was rather reassuring, in view of the stories from Chinese and Belgian newspapers that were surfacing on the Internet last fall. One e-mail report from Adrian Tribe of Conservation Research said that a Belgian chemical company had been called in to "do something" about the 19 or more types of mold that were attacking the lacquer and paint on the figures—a plan that may have been dropped in favor of the more cautious approach taken by Warscheid. The paint fragments that have shrunken and fallen off the statues because of fungal growth beneath them are being put into a very moist atmosphere to expand them before they are reapplied. Supposedly the fungicides keep the mold from growing under those conditions; but the clayish, loamy soil absorbs and neutralizes the biocides very rapidly, so they are not committed to a policy of regular application.

In the fourth session, "Prevention and Treatment Possibilities," Ann Hallström and J. Arvidsson reported on the condition of the two sets of leather books in the Skokloster Castle library which had been treated for mold with Vitamin K3 by Frantisek Makes in 1984 and 1989. Their paper was "Treatment Strategy and the Use of Menadion as an Inhibitor." The books treated in 1984 are still mostly clear of mold.

The treatment, which keeps the mold from making an enzyme to dissolve the leather, had been devised by Dr. Makes because the books had begun to go moldy after they were treated with the British leather dressing formula. No one had ever oiled any of the books in the unheated castle, but that oiling turned out to be a terrible mistake, because to the mold it was nourishment. The authors retreated the books first treated in 1989, and expected it to work this time because a fresh batch of the vitamin was used.

Christine Müller treated some moldy textiles with gamma rays, a method borrowed from book conservation, and reported the results in her paper. After 69 hours at about 40 kGy, the textiles were not visibly damaged, and the mold was gone. Further evaluation is planned.

In the last session, "Health Protection," speakers described health hazards associated with mold and dust, as well as institutional programs, governmental regulations (EU 1999, and others), risk assessment in the workplace, and the history of concern for fungal damage to works of art (it began in 1921, Wolfgang Krumbein and Anna Gorbushina say in their paper).

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