Historical Films Might Be Lost Forever Due to Vinegar Syndrome


A large amount of the world’s history is troubled by an existential threat. Recordings of Indigenous Australians, US government deeds, and pictures of English seaside life spanning three decades are only a part of the historical chunk recorded on acetate film. 

These recordings now suffer irreversible damage due to the vinegar syndrome. How much will the world lose if scientists don’t come up with a solution? Here is what you need to know. 

The Vinegar Syndrome Might Affect Lots of Historical Films

The vinegar syndrome occurs when acetate film is stored in a humid, warm chamber. Such conditions affect the film, decomposing it. As the film begins to decay, it gives off acetic acid, an ingredient similar to the household vinegar. The acid then speeds up the degradation in the rotted film, and can even damage the other films stored nearby.  

Unfortunately, the vinegar syndrome can’t be prevented forever or reversed. The only thing that works is a delay. Archives, for example, store their film collections in a dry and cold environment. Recent research, however, found that even such a solution might not work. 

To see how a film might decay over the years, researchers performed a series of experiments. They exposed films at high temperatures and medium humidity, also known as accelerated or artificial aging experiments. Then, they measured the free acidity. The vinegar syndrome is considered to occur when the free acidity reaches a 0.5 level. Measuring such a thing over time, the artificial aging experiments indicate how long it takes for a film to start suffering from the vinegar syndrome in humid, hot conditions. 

Currently, archives use guidelines to plan their film preservation techniques. For massive collections, storing film in some cold vaults is sometimes much affordable than making copies. If the cold conditions can really delay the vinegar syndrome until 2400, then we shouldn’t bother yet copying any films. However, we still need a reliable device to help us transfer all the data from the old films before it’s not too late. 

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