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AMIA-L  January 2006

AMIA-L January 2006

Subject:

Re: Vinegar syndrome audio tapes

From:

Mick Newnham <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Association of Moving Image Archivists <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 18 Jan 2006 10:00:54 +1100

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (45 lines)

Without intending to criticise anyone's olfactory senses - often a
"chemical" smell is incorrectly identified as acetic acid/vinegar. Acetic
acid has an odour threshold of about 1ppm - but will literally blow your
head off at 10ppm. Other carboxylic acids, such as butyric acid, may have
much lower thresholds (butyric acid is about 0.001ppm). Now anyone who has
had the "pleasure" of dealing with butyric acid knows that these two acids
smell quite different, but at levels close to the threshold it can be
difficult to differentiate one "acidy" smell from another. Similarly other
chemicals can be hard to differentiate.

When a carrier is closed up for a long'ish time any vaguely volatile
chemicals will diffuse into the surrounding area and establish an
equilibrium. As Jim pointed out there are many solvents, casting agents etc
etc incorporated in the manufacture of tapes/films etc that will diffuse
over time. If these concentrate in a enclosed space then the person who
opens this Pandora's Box will notice a strong chemical smell. The average
person can separate between 5-8 distinct smells at a time, a combination of
many different chemicals some of which are unknown to the person will
therefore be difficult to identify. An "untrained" nose (ignoring wine
tasters etc) will probably try to find something with a similar odour that
they do recognise and identify the smell as the memory. Especially if the
smell is kind'a like the smell they are "expecting" to find, for example,
acetic acid.

So where this is leading to is this: apart from being a bloody stupid thing
to do from a health point of view, using odour to identify decomposition in
a carrier is hopelessly inaccurate. Use something objective and repeatable
as an indicator e.g. AD Strips or physical characteristics (deformation,
shrinkage, change in viscosity, etc) to make such determinations, or base
decisions on paranoia (its just as accurate as smell without the risks!).

mick

Mick Newnham
Senior Researcher
National Film and Sound Archive
McCoy Circuit, Acton Canberra ACT 2601

Tel: +61 2  6248 2118  Fax: +61 2 6248 2165

www.nfsa.afc.gov.au

The National Film and Sound Archive collects, preserves and provides access
to Australia's historic and contemporary moving image and recorded sound
culture. We are part of the Australian Film Commission.

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