The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 8, Number 6
Dec 1984


EtO Study Group Meets

On October 17, 1984, a meeting of ethylene oxide (EtO) users from libraries, archives and museums was held at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. The day-long conference focused on four main -fumigation topics:

  1. Health and safety of fumigation operators end methods
  2. The effectiveness of EtO on various stages of insect development and mold/bacteria contamination
  3. The reaction of Etc with museum artifact and library materials
  4. Review and implementation of OSHA standards -for EtO use at 1 ppm with action levels at ½ ppm.

The meeting began with a critique of current museum fumigation practices and no outline of the OSHA standards by Patricia Circone, Chief of Laboratory, Division of Occupational Hygiene, Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The meeting was then divided into five discussion sessions on Chamber Operations, Monitoring Practices, Sterilization versus fumigation, Aeration of Collections and Fumigation Shutdowns. Survey findings indicated that all participants vented into the atmosphere using two to three air washes. One operated the vacuum pump with fumigation changer door open before unloading . Four used some form of respirator and six routinely wore gloves. Four had monitored EtO levels. Methods of testing for the presence of mold or bacteria were discussed. Special concern was given to aeration for periods of 12 hours to two or more weeks. Two of the 11 institutions reported voluntary shutdowns due to equipment, health and regulation concerns. The survey findings and discussions allowed representatives from each institution to evaluate their -fumigation practices and compliance with OSHA and state regulations.

An aspect of fumigation not well understood reactivity of EtO with protein materials and the presence of chlorides to form ethylene chlorohydrin [tolerance 1 ppm in air]. Another is retention of EtO by certain library materials and definition of acceptable aeration periods for these materials. [Editor's note; Dr Susan Lee-Bechtold, chief chemist at the National Archives, once made the point, in conversation, that understanding of the effects of fumigation with gamma radiation must be sought by an interdisciplinary team including specialists in microbiology, paper chemistry and radiology or nuclear engineering--and that firm answers to our questions are not likely to be found under present conditions, because these three specialties do not normally interact The same could be said of questions about other methods of fumigation, including EtO.]

Representatives from the 11 institutions are planning another meeting that could include speakers from industry, government, and scientific specialties concerned with -fumigation.

Anyone wanting copies of the survey questions, summary and list of participants, should send a pre-addressed and postpaid envelope to Fumigation Study, New Bedford Whaling Museum, 18 Johnny Cake Hill, New Bedford, MA 02740.

[From an NBWM news release.

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