Abstract Fungi that damage documents in archives may harm workers’ health, depending on which mold species are inhaled, the concentrations of fungal species inhaled, and individual factors. Our aim was to identify and quantify fungi in archives and to investigate possible links with the symptoms experienced by workers. Ten French archives were sampled using an air impactor and electrostatic dust collectors. Allergies and general symptoms felt by 144 workers were reported using a self-report questionnaire. Utilizing culture-based analysis methods along with qPCR, Penicillium chrysogenum, Cladosporium sphaerospermum, and Aspergillus versicolor were the three main fungi in air and dust in terms of quantity and frequency. Median fungal concentrations in storage areas, ranged from 30 to 465 CFU/m3. People working in the most contaminated archives did not report more symptoms of allergy than others. However, workers in contact with moldy documents reported more headaches (odds ratio, 2.4; 95% confidence interval, 1.1–5.3), fatigue (OR, 2.9; 95% CI, 1.2–6.7), eye irritation (OR, 5.4; 95% CI, 1.9–14.9), throat irritation (OR, 2.4; 95% CI, 1.0–5.7), coughing (OR, 3.2; 95% CI, 1.2–8.4), and rhinorrhea (OR, 2.6; 95% CI, 1.0–6.4) than others. Other parameters such as dust levels and concentrations of metabolites and chemical substances should be considered as confounding factors in further investigations to isolate the role of molds.
Most studies about fungi and archives deal with the conservation of manuscripts and documents, and few discuss workers’ health problems. Our study shows that archives do not represent a highly contaminated environment. Symptoms felt by workers were more often linked to direct contact with moldy documents than to high concentrations of mold in the air of archive storage areas. This study provides data on concentration levels in archives that could be used to interpret microbiological investigations in this type of environment in the future.