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Film and tape is very susceptible to damage from water, especially flood water that will be contaminated with dirt and debris. Each type of object is affected in a slightly different way and requires a slightly different approach in preventing further damage. In all cases, the sooner you can start recovering the objects, the greater the chance of minimising damage. However, the aftermath of a flood is dangerous with many unexpected hazards, so do not endanger your personal safety in an attempt to salvage your collection. Also be aware that wet objects may be contaminated with a range of biological or chemical hazards and good hygiene is required when handling flood affected objects.
The NFSA can assist by providing information on the best ways to stabilise your flood damaged objects and give these precious objects the best chance of recovery.
The first step is to make sure that the object has actually been affected by the flood waters. Often the film can or tape box will provide enough protection to prevent the water actually touching the object. If the object is not touched then just protect it from further damage that is likely to be caused by the damp conditions such as mould.
The following information contains some simple steps that you can take to salvage and stabilise your audiovisual objects. These are not conservation treatments and objects should still be examined and possibly treated by an experienced conservator before you attempt to play the object.
The biggest threat to flood affected film is mould and bacteria. Both these will feed off and destroy the film very rapidly. Both mould and bacteria may pose a health risk to people, if the film appears to be mould affected take all the precautions necessary to avoid skin contact with the mould and bacteria affected film and to prevent breathing in the mould spores.
If your film has been affected by floods then:
Magnetic tapes are objects such as audio and video cassettes and reel to reel audio. Again with magnetic tape mould is a problem and mould tapes must be handled with due respect to your health, however it is the potential for the part of the tape known as the binder to decay that presents the most immediate problem.
MiniDV tapes are made from different materials and these are very sensitive to water. The recovery rate from MiniDV that have been affected by floods is not high so be prepared for some losses with these cassettes.
If your tapes appear to have been affected by flood water then:
Acoustic recordings vinyl records (LP’s and 45’s) and optical discs, such as Laserdiscs, CDs, DVDs, BluRays, are known as discs. While all these objects are fairly resistant to the immediate effects of floodwater, there may be long-term effects, especially for optical discs.
Mould may be found on some discs but it is more likely to be growing on the paper covers and inserts. If there are signs of mould, take all the precautions necessary to prevent skin contact and breathing in the spores.
Discs that may have no permanent label, for example CD’s or DVD containing home movies, can be temporarily labelled using cardboard and string.
In all instances, it is important to seek professional advice before trying to do any more than is suggested above. Audiovisual objects are very fragile and well-meaning attempts to recover the objects often lead to the total loss of the object. Remember that most damage occurs after the flood, so quick stabilising action and seeking professional advice is the best way to ensure that your precious objects will stand a chance of survival.