When Records Get Dirty
Over the past four years, Preservation Programs in St. Louis has been dealing with a few extremely nasty problems—namely, mold infestation and bird guano.
Some of the mold was related to the 1973 fire, at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC). Other areas had leaks that developed after the 6th floor was demolished (because it had burned), and the fire suppression and pipe systems had to be re-adjusted.
But how did the bird guano get into the records? St. Louis is known for its extremely hot and humid summers, and in our old building many of the non-archival records storage areas weren’t climate controlled. The staff members frequently opened the windows (removing the screens, for some reason), and in flew the birds. You can guess the rest. We found nests. We found feathers. We even found eggs.
We didn’t want to bring these contaminated records to our clean, new, archivally climate-controlled building. We received funding to have most of them—12,372 boxes’ worth—sent away to be gamma radiated, at a cost of nearly $1.5 million.
But first we had to survey all of the boxes. We found 14,719 cubic feet of moldy records and 8,200 cubic feet of boxes with guano in them. The preservation technician in the above photo didn’t actually treat the records; the guano-infested boxes were hauled away for cleaning by movers in full hazmat suits. Techs weren’t even allowed to touch the guano boxes, so that we didn’t spread contaminated material during the survey.
Thankfully, the project is nearly over. And while there is still more work to be done, we were able to make the records safe to handle for future use.