Is there a mycologist in the house? Can I tell if fungus is dead?

Discussion in 'Camera Building, Repairs & Modification' started by Grytpype, Mar 26, 2012.

  1. Grytpype

    Grytpype Member

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    Recently I bought a "spares" Kiev 3a body on that auction site. I've seen a lot of fungus in my time, but this camera is the most disgusting I have ever seen by far! I could see straight away that fungus was all over the viewfinder optics and the prism (which is also broken or separating), but after I took the back off I could hardly put it back quickly enough - growths of mould all over the interior. The camera is currently banished from the house and in a utility room (in the sort of damp conditions that probably started the problem). As it stands I'd be afraid to strip the thing because of all the spores I'd be spreading, so the plan is to try and kill the fungus first.

    I recently started a thread on this forum asking how I could kill possible fungus in a lens case, and fumigation with thymol crystals looked like a good prospect. I've made up a sort of fumigation chamber using an airtight plastic cake-box, with a car side-light bulb and UPS-type battery to provide a heat source to sublimate the thymol. I am aiming to give this a trial on the Kiev.

    From web searches on thymol it seems that although it used to be considered THE thing for dealing with mould on books and documents, there now seems to be a lot of doubt among archivists as to its effectiveness. So the problem is how to determine after the thymol treatment whether the fungus is alive or defunct. I'm thinking in terms of scraping a bit of fungus on to a microscope slide and adding some sort of nutrient to see if the fungus grows. Obviously I would try this both before and after so I could contrast the result.

    Does anyone know whether this could work, and what I could use to feed the fungus? Would any growth, even with nutrient, be so slow as to be undetectable within a realistic time-scale? Is there an easier, or quicker, way of testing for signs of life?

    Thanks,

    Steve.
     
  2. vyshemirsky

    vyshemirsky Member

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    Most species of mould grow very fast in favourable conditions. I am not a professional, but I had experience of working with several species of mushrooms and moulds.
    Usual technique is to place a sample of fungus on agar in a petri dish, hold it at about 25º-35º Celsius for up to a couple of weeks observing whether any growth occurs.
    There is a problem though - it is very difficult to inoculate the dish without contamination. I would do it in a clean box (not just a clean box, but a box with a pair of gloves attached to it that
    is chemically sanitised before handling any samples inside. I would flame sterilise all the instruments (e.g. the inoculation loop or a scalpel). I would also inoculate at least three plates to
    split my chances.

    My recommendation is to scrap that camera - it is not worth the hassle.
    There are very few ways to kill mould spores, and I am pretty certain thymol is not one of them. Think autoclaving or gamma-ray sterilisation.
     
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  3. steven_e007

    steven_e007 Member

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    Hi Grytpype,

    I am indebted to you for one Agimatic top plate, I believe? I haven't forgotten :wink:

    There seems to be two separate schools of thought about fungus, even inside the optical industry.

    Some believe it should be treated like a highly infectious disease - fungus must be quarantined and kept away from other optics in case it spreads like an epidemic.

    Others believe that the spores are all around us, everywhere and that fungal growth in a lens or camera is the inevitable consequence of storing the things in the wrong conditions. If the conditions are not favourable to fungal growth, it doesn't matter whether spores are present or not, they won't grow.

    I must admit I'm of the latter tendency. I work with optics full time in my day job. I've never, ever seen a problem with fungus or mould growth in any optic that was kept in 'normal' conditions. I've seen plenty of fungus in things I've bought off eBay that have been pulled out of someone's garden shed.

    In this case, though, you say the growth is inside the camera? On the chassis and metalwork presumably?

    I believe the fungi that grow on lenses are very specific species. Some like optical glass and some specialize in the balsam between cemented lenses. They are completely different to the stuff that would grow inside a camera body... which might be a mould growing in the damp dust inside the camera rather than a very specific lens etching nasty.

    Killing fungal spores may be difficult, I'm not a mycologist either so I wouldn't know, but I think killing growing fungus and moulds themselves isn't so hard?
    Bleach, ammonia, acetic acid, hydrogen peroxide and heat should all kill it off. I think it is a matter of choosing something that won't damage whatever it is growing on.

    I recently bought an ex RAF whole plate camera on eBay. When I went to collect, the seller whipped it out of their deep freeze! :blink:
    Apparently it was riddled with mould. Actually, the mould was mostly attacking the case the camera was in - but the bellows were pretty mildewed, too. This was their usual, if unorthodox, treatment. It seems to do the trick, after I cleaned the dead mould off it has shown no sign of regrowth!
     
  4. Grytpype

    Grytpype Member

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    Thanks, both.

    From what you say, vyshemirsky, I think it is unlikely I would be able to do a valid test in the way I suggested. I must admit I did think of binning the camera, but it would be very useful for parts, and in fact I'm even thinking it could be repairable. Amazingly the shutter seems quite clean and almost works! It cocks and releases, though the second curtain needs a little help to run. I'm a sucker for a lost cause, and in fact the previous Kiev I rebuilt was severely fungusy - but nothing like as bad as this one.

    It is alleged that thymol kills spores, but as I said, there are many now who doubt its effectiveness, or even suggest it can encourage some types of mould. I always use vinegar for killing fungus on lenses, and on any other parts where I can wash it off easily, but of course problems arise when dealing with a complete camera, because you can't treat it until it is completely stripped.

    Like you, Steve, I generally tend to the school of thought that says fungus spores are everywhere, and it is how you keep the gear that counts. I live in rather damp premises, so most of my kit is kept dehumidified at about RH 30 to 40%. Anything I buy with fungus I normally put in an airtight box dehumidified below 10% RH until I have time to deal with it, but Kievs and Contax are tricky because of that leather strip holding the curtains together, which would be irreversably weakened by excessive dryness - really anything below 50%.

    It's an interesting thought that the fungus in the body is likely to be a different breed to the optical fungus in the viewfinder. I've often wondered if the fungus that attacks lenses is a specific type or types. Mainly thanks to eBay, I deal with fungus on a fairly regular basis - it's just the shear quantity that bothers me here, but if the body fungus is actually not a threat to optics, then the dismantling process would be no more dangerous than many others I've done.

    Fixed that Agimatic yet, Steve?

    Steve.
     
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  5. EASmithV

    EASmithV Member

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    Ugh... If I had a camera that bad, i wouldn't let it near any of my other photographic equipment, ever.

    +1 for boiling it and using what's left for parts
     
  6. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    New spores are everywhere and difficult to destroy. Just wipe it off and keep it out of moisture in the future.
     
  7. Grytpype

    Grytpype Member

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    A perfect illustration of the two schools of thought re. fungus!!

    Does this sound like a plan? It's unusually sunny here in the UK at present. I'll open the back and leave the camera in the sun in the hope that the UV will at least kill the visible mould. Then I will try the thymol fumigation trick in case that does some damage to the inaccessible fungus, and then put the thing in a sealed plastic bag in the ice-box while I decide what to do next.
     
  8. steven_e007

    steven_e007 Member

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    ROFL! :D:D:D

    I like it - a three pronged approach - if the fungus survives that, I think it is entitled to devour the camera!

    Alas, no, I haven't done the Agimatic, yet. I definitely will - but I had a bit of a photographic crises when I realised how little time I'm spending on photography these days, and just how many unfinished projects I've got on the go. Unfortunately I'm a serial project starter. I had to sit myself down and give myself a good talking to and come up with a plan. I now have a list of priorities - and top priority is to use up all the film, paper and chemicals I have stocked up on that are just going stale. I need to use them before they are useless... Repairing my camera collection is a bit further down the list - but fear not, I will get there.
     
  9. Grytpype

    Grytpype Member

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    Thought it might be of interest if I uploaded a picture of the interior of this specimen.

    WARNING: This image is not suitable for children, or those of a nervous disposition!!
     

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  10. jjphoto

    jjphoto Member

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    Hmmm...fBay (fungusBay)!

    JJ
     
  11. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    Here is Florida where the state flower is mildew we have long used paraformaldehyde powder to fumigate such things as leather goods. It used to be sold in small cloth bags as DiGas. It has been off the market for some years thanks to our EPA. However, you should be able to get some from a chemical supply company. This is the same chamical that is used in high contrast developers to produce half-tone negatives. Paraformaldehyde slowly releases formaldehyde gas. Place the camera in a ziplock bag with a spoonful of the powder wrapped in a piece of cloth and leave it for a few days. All the fungus and the spores should be killed.

    For non-metallic objects such as books and leather goods take a tablespoon of copper sulfate crystals (bluestone is the common name) and dissolve it in a cup of water. Put the solution in a wide mouth jar. Take a cloth, an old wash cloth works very well and allow it to soak in the solution for an hour. Squeeze as much liquid out of the cloth as you can saving the liquid back into the jar. Save the jar and solution for later use. Allow the cloth to completely dry. Wipe the object with the dry cloth. This leaves an invisible coating of copper sulfate on the object and will not dicolor it. The copper ions with kill any fungus. When the cloth seems to be losing its effectiveness resoak it in the saved solution.

    Fungus can also be destroyed by exposure to UV light. Strong sunlight can be used but this may be a problem in Britain. :smile: Remember fungus loves dampness and the dark. Hope this helps.

    Jerry
     
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  12. Grytpype

    Grytpype Member

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    Thanks for that very interesting information, Jerry. Paraformaldehyde looks a good prospect. I'll investigate further!

    Steve.
     
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  13. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    If you can't find paraformaldehyde then you can come get some free Formalin (formaldehyde solution) from me, (I'm close to the Shropshire border in Worcs).

    Ian
     
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  15. Leigh Youdale

    Leigh Youdale Member

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    Best solution is a full immersion bath for several days in Formalin. Probably banned in some areas now. Don't get it on your skin and don't breathe the fumes.
    Then disassemble the camera for the parts you want to keep - chuck the rest. You may then need to consider the best method of preserving the various parts until you want to use them.
     
  16. Grytpype

    Grytpype Member

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    I found an eBay seller offering the powder in 100gm quantities, though searches I've done suggest it needs heating to quite a high temperature (rather more than thymol) to carry out fumigation. I will need to do some more research - possibly it is effective with less heat if given more time.

    Maybe I should take you up on your generous offer, Ian. Would the formalin liquid work for fumigation at nearer room temperature?
     
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  17. hoizontes

    hoizontes Member

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    I believe Thymol Crystals were stopped being used for mold in books because in the long term it was thought to damage the paper of manuscripts ; not that it wasn't ineffective in killing mold. I have a Nikon F 135mm lens that had about 20 mm of mold in a corner when I bought it - in the interior , I cant get to it . I put it in a sealed box with said crystals and it has not altered one bit in 15 years !
     
  18. hoizontes

    hoizontes Member

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    I believe Thymol Crystals were stopped being used for mold in books because in the long term it was thought to damage the paper of manuscripts ; not that it wasn't ineffective in killing mold. I have a Nikon F 135mm lens that had about 20 mm of mold in a corner when I bought it - in the interior , I cant get to it . I put it in a sealed box with said crystals and it has not altered one bit in 15 years !
     
  19. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    Paraformaldehyde is a polymer of formaldehyde and releases the monomer at room temperature. You don't need to heat it. Exposure will take a few days but will work.
     
  20. Dan Fromm

    Dan Fromm Member

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    Shipping paraformaldehyde legally isn't easy.

    I used to fly with it (add water to get formalin solution for preserving specimens. Carrying paraformaldehyde is much less problematic than carrying formalin and beats shopping for formalin in country. In some countries, e.g., Paraguay, formalin is a controlled substance, one needs a prescription to buy it.). Stopped after I had visions of a customs officer finding my white powder and tasting or sniffing it.

    Old friend, now dead, once flew with a Nalgene bottle of formalin in a soft-sided suitcase. The airline's baggage smashers broke the bottle while loading checked bags. Flight cancelled, bomb scare, bomb-sniffing dogs rendered nose-dead, many many unpleasant repercussions.
     
  21. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    Environmental agencies seem to over dramatise the danger of chemicals. If formaldehyde were as dangerous as some put on then medical students would be dropping dead after their first dissection class. Formaldehyde was one used to keep milk from spoiling.

    Treat all chemicals with respect and not fear.
     
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  22. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    Gerald - my wife's anatomy instructor in med school did die from formaldehyde exposure. He never
    even made it to 40. I substitute thymol or glyaxol whenenver possible. But fungus per se ... I too live
    in a damp climate and just picked up a case of dessicant canisters, like they use in gun safes (pretty
    much a hydroscopic clinker mix of lime and rock salt). Some fungal spores can live for centuries if not millennia. They're everywhere.
     
  23. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    If as you say the cause was constant formaldehyde exposure then this is the first case I have heard of.
     
  24. Grytpype

    Grytpype Member

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    I gave up using the thymol. I found that the vapours tended to condense out on the object involved. I stored the Kiev which started this thread with a little sachet of thymol inside the body and after a few weeks, found liquid thymol on the shutter curtains. Logically it should evaporate off again eventually, but I'm still waiting! Also it appeared to have no discernible effect in slowing the spread of mildew on a camera case.

    I have used the paraformaldehyde, heating the crystals occasionally to help the production of the formaldehyde gas. I found some data somewhere online (though I cannot locate it at present) which stated that formaldehyde fumigation is only really effective at ambient temperatures over 20°C and relative humidy over 75%. The latter isn't a problem here, but the former rather limits its use to a couple of weeks a year!

    Steve.
     
  25. Grytpype

    Grytpype Member

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    By the way, there is an extremely interesting article on fungus here. It is mainly directed at archivists, but photographic materials, including glass, are covered. It dismisses thymol, but doesn't mention formaldehyde, and says at one point that UV light is fungistatic rather than fungicidal (i.e.it stops it spreading but doesn't kill it), which I didn't know.

    The article also possible answers my original question (how do you tell if a fungus is dead?). Apparently the answer is to add lactophenol-cotton blue solution which stains living fungi blue, but I may need to get my hands on a decent microscope.
     
  26. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    Gerald - the dangers of formaldehyde are well documented. All our own bodies produce small amts of
    it. But certain local building codes have banned formaldehyde glue in plywood (the substitutes don't
    work very well, however) - since some people get allergic or even more serious reactions to all the
    formaldehyde outgassing in new construction. But the far more serious problem is at the mfg level
    of these kinds of products where workers are potential exposed to much greater quantities. Similarly,
    a medical instructor working with cadavers all day long is going have experience far more cumulative
    exposure than his students. It's a known career risk, but in some fields people just get too comfortable with the status quo. In this university town we have a saying: If you want to live past
    52, don't be a crop duster, an industrial painter, or a research chemist.