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Subject: Pharmaceuticals


From: Flora Davidson <conserve>
Date: Sunday, February 21, 1999
Alan J. Hawk <hawk [at] afip__osd__mil> writes

>The museum where I work has a very small collection of
>pharmaceuticals that happen to be covered by the controlled
>substances act.  We have been presented with two choices, discard or
>encase in acrylic.

I have recently been working with a pharmaceutical collection and
have also come across the problems involved with storing potentially
dangerous substances and/or controlled substances.

I don't know of and haven't encountered anyone or any reference that
will help you with regards to encasing bottles or vials in resin.
However, do you really have only two choices (discard or
encapsulate) for the fate of your collection of pharmaceuticals?

Before deciding what to do with your collection, it would be
worthwhile taking a closer look to see if there are any alternatives
that would enable you to keep the collection intact without having
to completely discard the contents of your collection or encapsulate
the contents in bottles.  I think it is important to note that both
of these options should be looked upon as drastic: encasing bottles
of pills in acrylic may render these objects neither suitable for
display nor functional as study or research objects and thus may
change the nature of the collection.  This concern is in addition to
the problems you have already foreseen in finding an appropriate

Your decision on what to do could boil down to what you actually
have in the collection and what quantities you have.   You may be
able to keep the collection as it is if it is stored in an
appropriate cabinet and kept under lock and key.  You may want to
keep only small samples of the substances in separate containers and
empty the original containers if you cannot keep larger quantities.

While discarding the substances may be somewhat drastic, it might be
a sound decision given the potentially dangerous nature of some
substances or because of the legalities in keeping these substances
should you be unable to provide appropriate storage or find them
another home.  Furthermore, if the substances you are concerned
about happen to be pure samples (ie. known pure compounds),
disposing of the contents may not be unreasonable--after of course,
the contents have been fully documented and described.   If you
choose to discard any substances, find out how to do this properly!

Not all the substances in your collection will pose the same risks
and therefore you will probably have to consider each substance on
an individual basis: it would be unwise to treat a pharmaceutical
collections as one homogeneous mass.  Some compounds may be toxic,
corrosive, habit forming, or even explosive and, furthermore, some
will be stable yet others may change or become unstable if not
protected from heat, light, air or etc. You may find that your best
plan includes several different methods for dealing with the items
in your collection as long as you have a systematic approach that
you are able to stick to: you may find, for example,  that you are
able to keep some substances under lock and key but must dispose of

Basically, if you consider the contents (literally!) of your
collection on an individual basis, the methods that would enable you
to keep your collection in a safe and legal way, and what it is you
are trying to preserve (ie. your aim in keeping the collection in
the first place) you may find that you have better options for
"preserving" your pharmaceutical collection than you had initially
been led to believe. Hope this is of use,

Flora Davidson

                  Conservation DistList Instance 12:69
                Distributed: Tuesday, February 23, 1999
                       Message Id: cdl-12-69-003
Received on Sunday, 21 February, 1999

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