These past days I’ve been digging into piles of my old and new stuff. Heaps of bookbinding paper and documents, power tools, pieces of wood and lots of other things. Just in two weeks, we are moving to Amsterdam, and all our possessions had to be sorted, separated and evaluated. Many of them went to garbage, some we are taking with us. Dealing with many things that were stored for a long time without moving made me experience the worst sort of allergy I had in a long time.
Initially, I thought I had an allergy to cats. When I was a child, allergy scratching tests showed ++++ out of +++ with cat-related components. Later I took a more diverse test, and it appeared, that my reaction to dust, mold, and mites that live in dust and fur of pets is even worse. Something one should consider before starting to work as a bookbinder.
Luckily, it is not so often that I have to deal with dusty and moldy books. And, for sure, I always use a special mask or respirator. However, this time even respirator was of no help. One of the days my wife and I spent hours sorting through things in her parents’ house (part of my stock of old paper and leather was stored there). By the end of the day, I had severe problems breathing and seeing. My nose was running, and eyes were itching. The following night was almost sleepless. Even wearing a mask during the sorting process didn’t help me.
I understand these are special conditions. Anyway, I decided to write a post about protecting yourself in case you have allergies and have to work with books. It is reasonable to apply these rules apply not to people who have allergies. There are some things that you just don’t want to inhale, like mold spores.
In my case, I contact of skin with mold or dust may result in itching and other unpleasant effects. The reasonable thing to do is to use gloves. Rubber, Latex (just check if you are not allergic, it may make things even worse otherwise), something that is waterproof.
In general, both for hand and breathing protection you may want to act as if you are salvaging goods after a flood. However, dry books with mold and dead (or alive) insects may be even worse than wet books, because dry stuff may be easier to be transferred in the air.
If itching hands are just a nuisance for me, breathing problems are something much more real. There had been several times I had a real chance to die because of breathing problems due to my allergies.
Using a mask is a solution. There is an insanely broad choice of masks that can be used for protection from dust, mold, insects and their excrements. Depending on the state of objects you are working with and your condition, you may decide to use something simple (like a disposable breathing mask), or something more sophisticated. I have both a fitness mask and dust respirator mask. Both have their uses.
I can say that my fitness mask wasn’t enough that time. Next time I’m using a full facepiece kit in situation like that one =)
In any case, stay safe and use protection!