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Subject: Arsenic


From: Mark Norman <mark.norman>
Date: Monday, September 23, 2002
Gregor Trinkaus-Randall <gregor.trinkaus-randall [at] state__ma__us> writes

>I have just been approached by a colleague who wants to know about
>and be able to document the use of arsenic in the stuffing of birds
>in the past.  If is was used, in what time period and does it pose
>any hazard to humans?

I am not a natural history conservator but would suggest that you
contact colleagues who routinely deal with this type of collection
for current health and safety advice. It is my understanding that
both arsenic and mercury were used until quite recently (ie less
than 50 years ago)in the preservation of skins, both as a salve
('arsenical soap')applied to the flesh side before mounting and also
in powder form dusted onto the fur/feathers as an insecticide
afterwards. An analysis based survey that I was involved in some
years ago showed that there was no consistency in the levels of
arsenic or mercury detected, and that these could be alarmingly
high. Mercury was also the preferred preservative for herbarium
specimens for a very long time so care must be exercised in both
handling, and particularly cleaning, of such material.

Mark Norman
Ashmolean Museum
Oxford OX1 2PH

                  Conservation DistList Instance 16:23
               Distributed: Wednesday, September 25, 2002
                       Message Id: cdl-16-23-009
Received on Monday, 23 September, 2002

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