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Byne's Disease

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Notes on Byne's disease:

  • It (Byne's disease) is a reaction to acid vapors in the air, resulting in a white powdery residue on the shells. Oak wood is one source of such vapors. Use the new Conch-L search engine and you will find considerable discussion on the topic in the Conch-L archives.
    Paul M. (Conch-L listserve June 14, 2000)

  • Paul is right about oak wood, which is probably one of the highest acidic woods there is.
    The Native American Indians would hollow out an oak stump or log, fill with water, and tan hides in them. Hence the name, "Tannic Acid."
    Scott (Conch-L listserve May 21, 2001)

A Great Note on Byne's Disease :

One thing to remember about Byne's "Disease" is that the cause has two components. The development of the condition requires (1) a material capable of releasing acid vapors, and (2) sufficient moisture to allow those acid vapors to form. Some woods, such as oak (I'm not sure about teak) have the capacity to release such vapors, in the presence of moisture. So, if you cannot keep your cabinets in an area free of high humidity, you should be careful about the wood they are made from. But if you have a good dry place to keep the collection, then the type of wood in the cabinets is far less problematic. Good ventilation is a plus, but it isn't the deciding factor. If you have an acid-producing wood in a moist environment, then Byne's can occur, even with good ventilation (though probably more slowly than with poor ventilation). If you have the collection is a low humidity environment, then Byne's should not occur, even if the ventilation is poor.
It is a good idea to control humidity regardless of what kind of cabinets you have, since high humidity tends to favor other problems as well, especially fungal growth.

Paul M. (Conch-L listserve May 21, 2001:)


Something to think about!!!

  • Has anyone ever tried using an alkaline chemical to protect shells from Byne's disease. The idea would be to give any acidic vapors something else to react with first. I am trying a small dish of baking soda in each specimen drawer. Perhaps crushed limestone, or calcium hydroxide world work better, or a blotter or the cabinet itself doused with an alkaline solution.
    Am I wasting my time?
    Martin (Conch-L October 16, 1999)
  • It seems unlikely to me that a dish of baking soda in each drawer is likely to help much. It would help if it somehow drew the acid vapors to itself. But since that doesn't happen, a small dish of baking soda, I would think, would have the same effect as putting an old, unwanted shell in each drawer. Acid vapors which reached the baking soda would react with it, and vapors which reached the shells would still react with them.
    Paul M. (Conch-L October 17, 1999)

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