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Subject: Survey on radioactive materials

Survey on radioactive materials

From: Alison Wain <awain>
Date: Wednesday, August 28, 1996
Sally Shelton <libsdnhm [at] class__org> writes

>On Barbara's behalf, I am sending out this renewed request for any
>information you may have on how you deal with the following types of
>    *   Radioactive or suspected radioactive fossils and/or sediments
>    *   Irradiated gemstones with suspected residual radioactivity
>    *   Radioactive sites

When the Museum of Victoria was relocating its Science and
Technology collections to a new site in 1991-92 we came across a
number of hazardous items including several radioactive objects.
These included an aircraft instrument panel, various fluorescent
pigments and interestingly a sample of the mineral calcite which
contained a large apatite crystal. We only discovered this exhibited
radioactivity because we were playing with our new Geiger counter
and pointing it at everything we could see! The curators, and indeed
the Health Department who came to give us a more precise reading had
never encountered such an oddity before.

The research I did on handling, treating and storing all these
hazards was published in the AICCM Bulletin, vol. 18, nos 1-2, 1992,
which also discusses approaches to flagging hazards in collection
databases and keeping the identification of hazardous materials up
to date.

Basically with material suspected to be radioactive, we now use the
aforementioned small Geiger counter to take a reading.  If the
reading is only slightly above background we store the object in
appropriate shielding materials in a polyethylene box (which
provides shielding against alpha radiation and prevents people
picking the object up with their hands) inside a locked cabinet. The
object is also given a label identifying the hazard and appropriate
safety clothing for handling it, and information on the hazard is
posted on the inside of the cabinet door.  The conservation record
for the object and the curatorial record are then both edited,
flagging the hazard and the safety precautions required.

If the radioactivity is significantly above background levels we
call in the the Radiation Safety Section of the Health Department,
who do a more accurate reading and advise us on appropriate storage
methods, or in some cases recommend disposal of the item.  Again, if
we retain the item the conservation and curatorial records are
amended accordingly.

Alison Wain
Objects Conservator
Museum of Victoria

                  Conservation DistList Instance 10:22
                Distributed: Wednesday, August 28, 1996
                       Message Id: cdl-10-22-006
Received on Wednesday, 28 August, 1996

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