JAIC 1996, Volume 35, Number 1, Article 3 (pp. 23 to 43)
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1996, Volume 35, Number 1, Article 3 (pp. 23 to 43)

A HISTORY OF PEST CONTROL MEASURES IN THE ANTHROPOLOGY COLLECTIONS, NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY, SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION

LISA GOLDBERG



3 HEALTH AND SAFETY

The preceding survey of pesticide and fumigant use for anthropology collections at the Smithsonian uncovers an array of potential toxins. Table 1 summarizes exposure limits and health effects for each of these specific chemicals. Museum personnel concerned with exposure potential for previously applied pesticides should evaluate each chemical that may have been used in terms of time and method of application, volatility, and other physical characteristics. For example, metal salts such as arsenic or mercury could exist as crystalline residues, while carbon disulfide would probably not leave any gaseous traces. Residues for many chemicals may be traced using specific chemical tests. Consultation with an industrial hygienist can help in an evaluation of potential exposure. With so little information on actual exposure levels in the museum workplace, individuals caring for historically poisoned collections should take precautions necessary to limit exposure (Peltz and Rossol 1983).

Many previously used pesticides and fumigants could potentially have long-term health effects when there is inadvertent exposure. While the medical effects of exposure to many of these chemicals have been described in terms of standard threshold exposure limits (STEL) or time-weighted averages for an 8-hour period (TWA), there is scant research on exposure levels for museum professionals who handle treated materials but do not apply these chemicals themselves. Early research on pesticide residues in museum collections confirmed the presence of arsenic and mercury on objects, but results concerning dermal and inhalation exposure were inconclusive due to small sample size and variance in work habits (Muir et al. 1981). Similarly, test results for worker exposure to DDT residues in museums showed that concentrations were well below governmental standards (Aviso 1985). More recent work at the Smithsonian Institution confirmed that nonvolatile pesticide residues such as arsenic, mercury, and DDT are present in minute quantities in air samples, but the sample size was extremely small and investigation of dermal hazard was not addressed (Baxter and Gottfried 1992). Further testing of collections from other departments has revealed higher worker exposure when specific tasks are performed (Makos 1994). Exposure limits in the workplace are often difficult to determine because of object complexity, lack of specific treatment history, and variance in individual work habits.


Copyright 1996 American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works