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Subject: Dust and health hazards

Dust and health hazards

From: Charles Stable <c.stable<-a>
Date: Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Helena Jaeschke <helena.jaeschke [at] exeter__gov__uk> writes

>A number of small museums are concerned that their staff (many of
>whom are retired people, either elderly or infirm) may be exposed to
>hazardous substances in the dust of museum storage areas and have
>asked if there is any feasible way of testing the dust for the
>presence of poisons, heavy metal compounds, pnicogens, pathogens
>etc. For example: lead compounds from pigments, arsenic or mercury
>from natural history or costume items, curare or other arrow
>poisons. Have any colleagues undertaken this kind of analysis or
>come across published results that can reassure curators that their
>staff are not likely to be harmed while working with the collections
>or in special circumstances (e.g. a flood) ?

Currently we undertaking are a move of natural history and
ethnographic material from our museum to new storage facilities.
Many of the collections have been know to have been treated with
heavy metal pesticides. Concerns were raised about the long term
risk to health and on this basis the Institute of Occupational
Medicine were commissioned to carry out analysis of air quality in
our stores and also analysis of dust in stores through passive
sampling and wipe samples of artefacts and storage surfaces. In
addition we have been carrying out some surface XRF analysis of
ethnographic objects. IOM assessed the risk presented by the
presence of these pollutants to be low however advised that there is
residual risk through normal handling activities where contaminants
could be disturbed and absorbed via skin and inhalation. IOM made
the following recommendations to further reduce this residual risk
when handling collections:

    Wear protective clothing (eg lab coats)

    Wear nitrile gloves

    Wear respiratory protective equipment (P2 filter) when handling
    known dusty items or when moving significant numbers of

    Provide good general ventilation in the work place

    Clean surfaces after handling or movement of artefacts using a
    wet technique or use of a vac fitted with a HEPA filter

    Wherever possible avoid removing items from their containers or
    current storage containers

    Do not eat drink smoke in storage areas where artefacts are

    Wash hands and face after handling specimens and before eating
    drinking and smoking.

Charles Stable
Artefact Conservator
National Museums Of Scotland
Chambers St
Edinburgh EH1 1JF
+44 131 247 4033

                  Conservation DistList Instance 19:7
                  Distributed: Thursday, July 21, 2005
                        Message Id: cdl-19-7-011
Received on Wednesday, 20 July, 2005

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