Indoor Air Quality Problems Facing Book Restorers

Indoor Air Quality Problems Facing Book Restorers 1

Whether you run a library or rare books shop, curate and exhibit historically significant documents, or are simply a collector of textual paper artifacts, there will be times when an item is deemed valuable enough to employ restoration efforts. But doing so can cause health problems in those performing the restoration if IAQ (indoor air quality) defensive measures are not employed. (6)

Paper-based items — such as books and manuscripts, maps and newspapers – degrade over time. (1A) These fragile items are mended in a variety of different ways, but all methods of restoration have the potential – at certain points in time – to cause illness and discomfort in those who labor in paper-based repair activities. The first step in avoiding occupational risks is knowing when they occur.

A restorer begins with first-line work such as removing fasteners, flagging pages with damage, and itemizing texts for storage or additional repair. The secondary step is the repair and restoration of a single item. This process includes:

1. Cleaning. Techs use items such as brushes, forced air, or specialized vacuums to remove dirt and debris. Solvents and sponge-like erasers are employed to eliminate mold and soot.
2. Humidification. When textual documents become brittle over time, items can fall apart easily. Adding moisture to the paper relaxes the paper fiber so they can be stored and later used.
3. Tear Repair. A special tissue is applied with a thin coat of starch paste. The document becomes reinforced once dried.
4. Encapsulation. Repaired documents are placed in polyester sleeves for protection and managed in drawers, boxes, or bins.

During the entire process, potential contaminants – such as pests, mold, and other VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are emitted into the worker’s breathing space. (2) But what are they and where do they come from?

There are various contaminants that affect indoor air quality. During document and book restoration efforts, the following are the top three sources of contaminants:
• Molds and insects (dust mites)
• Adhesives
• Solvents
VOCs such as molds, and insects such as dust mites, (1)(3) need organic materials to supply nutrients for them to thrive. And paper artifacts are a constant source, if air quality is less than optimal. Cellulose-based materials, such as cotton, linen, paper, cloth, and parchment are particularly susceptible to infestation by microorganisms. (3)(6)
But there are other sources of dirty air that can cause health problems in book and paper restorers. There are also fumes from the adhesives that bind a book as well as the solvents used to clean an item. Just like molds and dusts, glues and cleaners can trigger allergies and illnesses – such as asthma and other respiratory complaints – in those who perform the restoration work. (2)(5)
Many businesses, in both the public and private sector, take very seriously the task of protecting their employees from possible health risks associated with book and document restoration. To avoid these problems, collections should be inspected regularly for signs of microorganism growth. (4) Once restoration begins, a worker’s breathing space should be clean and free of any airborne fumes or particles. Air cleaning methods can be used for this purpose.

At AIRSInc, products such as our Extract-All model S-984-1 are specially designed for removing toxins at their source which will go a long way to keeping employees and the collections they are hired to restore, safe. Contact us today for a free clean air analysis.