Canadians to restore Ivan-damaged documents

Belfor Canada has taken the first steps to salvage the local government’s water-damaged documents, victims of Hurricane Ivan.

Belfor, based in Germany and the world’s premier document-restoration and mould-remediation outfit, is represented in 26 countries, and uses the most advanced freeze-drying techniques available.

Gary Bird, Belfor manager, documents safety officer and the company’s chief Canadian operative, has 10 years of mould-remediation expertise. He will lead the effort to restore the water-damaged documents of more than 20 Cayman government departments.

Director of the National Archives of the Cayman Islands, Philip Pedley, said he was procuring the damaged documents from government and had invited Belfor to the island.

He said, however, that Cayman’s archival records were intact and undamaged by the storm.

‘The materials that are being treated are not archives,’ Dr. Pedley said.

‘They are not historical records; I don’t want people to think that the archives of the Cayman Islands, the history, were damaged. The archives are kept in strong rooms upstairs; they were not damaged.

‘When I say government documents from government departments, that’s exactly what I mean.’

The damaged documents are records ‘from 20 departments, but they are not historical archives’.

Although it appears to be no more than a 40-foot container, the equipment Belfor is using is the biggest and best thermal-vacuum freeze-drying machinery in the world, designed especially by Belfor employees, recruited from among the best scientists and engineers globally.


Thermal-vacuum freeze-drying is the most effective means to restore water-damaged documents, and involves moving water from its liquid to a gaseous state through a ‘sublimation process’, which culminates in the complete removal of moisture from treated materials.

Although Mr. Bird promised only that documents would be returned to a ‘semi-original state’, he cited Belfor’s full restoration of typhoon-damaged documents in India.

‘A hundred thousand documents were treated; and 100,000 documents were returned to the shelves, as if nothing had happened,’ Mr. Bird said.

Not only will Belfor remove moisture from damaged documents, but the company will also get rid of extremely dangerous mould spores, Mr. Bird said, especially stachybotrys chartarum and Stachybotrys atra.

Mr. Bird said stachybotrys chartarum is extremely toxic; its growth requires a lot of moisture, but it is always present in the environment.

What makes the difference, said Mr. Bird, is the concentration of the spores: If more of them are in any particular location than in the general environment, trouble looms.

It is impossible to rid the environment of spores entirely, he said.

‘I can bring (the spore count) down to zero inside, but as soon as I open the door, I can introduce a billion spores back into the environment … and that’s fine, providing that it’s equal to or less than the outside counts.’

Unique process

Documents from the 20 Cayman departments are in ‘a stabilised state’, locked in containers on National Archives property.

When the containers are opened, millions of spores will be released, but are unlikely to create a problem.

At this stage, ‘no further damage can happen to (the documents),’ Mr. Bird said. When they are frozen, the moisture is still inside them, but it is in the process of being transferred from water to gas.

‘In this process, we bypass (water’s) liquid state; (in the) sublimation process, we’re actually going from a solid to a gas, bypassing the liquid state altogether,’ he said.

The unique process is proprietary to Belfor, and one which the company’s competitors would love to replicate, Mr. Bird said.

Mr. Bird was unwilling to name the cost of the restoration project, but said: ‘It’s a fairly expensive process; (an individual would) have to make sure (he) really needed to retain these documents.’

But, he said: ‘Is it a process needed to preserve your heritage? Yes.’

National Archive director Dr. Pedley said the institution had a longstanding relationship with Belfor.

‘We’re happy with the work that Belfor has done thus far, and we anticipate that the vast majority of the documents that were water damaged will be treated successfully and returned to the departments in usable form,’ he said.

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