Welcome and opening remarks
Session 1 - Heritage and health hazards
Chair: Rick Bonnie
Keynote session: Helene Tello
Journey into a toxic past: Pest control in museums at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century
Chair: Henna Sinisalo
Abstracts: Session 1 - Heritage and health hazards
Dangerous fashion. On health risks as collection caretakers handling the fashion collection of MoMu.
Kim Verkens and Pieter Pauwels (Fashion Museum, Antwerp, Belgium)
The use of hazardous materials takes up an important but lesser-known part in the history of fashion. As early as 1814 the colour emerald green was developed using arsenic and copper, silk was weighted with an array of metals and salts, mercury was used in the production of hats, CN used in fashion accessories and of course there’s the production of early plastics. Even though certain toxic components have been banned over the course of history, institutions like ours exist to collect and preserve objects containing the aforementioned.
As these materials end up in museums and archives, collection caretakers manipulate them day in and out. The process of recognizing hazardous matter and acknowledging health risk issues is a slow one, but gradually we try to raise awareness by investing in the component analysis of the objects in our museum collection. It is a time-consuming first step and proper procedures need to be worked out on how to deal with these specific materials in collections. What is the next phase after the identification of these materials? How do we store them? How do we protect the collection caretakers and visitors?
Besides, we can’t forget that plastics are still being produced with little consideration regarding human health or the impact on the planet itself.
Hazardous Bookbindings - Health hazards in the National Library of Finland collections
Marleena Vihakara (The National Library of Finland)
The National Library of Finland houses a vast variety of cultural heritage publications and objects from different time periods. The physical collections consist of manuscripts, printed books, journals, archival material such as handwritten letters, photographic and audiovisual material, music collections with sheet music, records, and instruments, as well as pieces of art. The Library not only has the responsibility to collect and preserve these cultural heritage materials but also to provide access to the collections to society at large.
The library collection materials can contain chemical exposure agents harmful to humans, such as heavy metals, asbestos, pesticides, and additives. Therefore, they pose a health hazard to library staff, researchers, students, and customers in general when being handled. The presentation will approach the subject in general and through case studies where material analyses were done on historical bookbindings from different centuries in the National Library of Finland. The results of the analyses showed the presence of heavy metals in the bookbindings, particularly arsenic, mercury, and lead. The material analyses have not only provided valuable information on the chemical health hazards of the bound library items, leading to improved handling guidelines for library staff and users, but have also offered insights into the craftsmanship of bookbinding production in different times.
Museum Professionals' Perceptions of Chemical and Biological Hazards and Risks in Museum Work Environments in Finland
Henna Sinisalo (Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and University of Helsinki, Finland)
Limited research has been conducted on museum professionals’ understanding of workplace hazards and risks despite the presence of various health hazards. This paper investigates the perceptions of Finnish museum professionals regarding chemical and biological hazards in museum work environments. It utilizes data collected through two surveys and employs a mixed-method approach for analysis. The study argues that there is insufficient awareness of chemical and biological hazards in museums, which can lead to exposure. Additionally, the limited budgets of museums can hinder improvements, and the goal of preserving collections and museum buildings may conflict with promoting workplace safety. The study identified perceived hazards including molds, indoor air quality, dust, hazardous materials, and treatment agents, but also accident risk and ergonomic issues. The hazards were associated
with museum collections and inadequate facilities, tools, and work practices. Limited resources, lack of knowledge, poor safety management, and attitudes exacerbated the risks. Larger museums and collection workers reported a higher prevalence of chemical and biological hazards in collections, while some respondents were unaware of collection-specific hazards. The study highlights the need for improved safety practices, training, and increased budgetary support to enhance workplace safety in Finnish museums and ensure the well-being of museum professionals.
Everyone asbestos expert! Towards a knowledge-driven approach for asbestos and heritage
Joeri Januarius (Center for Industrial Heritage, Ghent, Belgium)
In the last fifty years, new and evolving insights have been crucial for grasping the history of asbestos and the policies pursued around it. These insights have recently significantly impacted heritage practice and research on asbestos heritage. Knowledge development in various disciplines remains indispensable for making a difference in research, training, and policy. American geologist Sean Fitzgerald argues we need a paradigm shift in asbestos research and practice. What do we know about asbestos? And what do we think we know about asbestos and heritage? And how can we use this knowledge to set the future agenda, which should coincide with the new policies pursued in Europe? To achieve this goal, this paper argues for a knowledge-driven approach. If we want to keep taking steps forward, we must put much more effort into understanding, recognizing, and identifying asbestos in heritage. That basic knowledge is still too much in the hands of external experts, who need more understanding of heritage. This presentation explores two critical success factors to achieve this. First, a fully developed and internationally oriented database (ziterasbestin.be) should be developed. And second, an active, accessible, and multidisciplinary asbestos network must be created.
The use of 'poisonous insecticidal solutions' in bookbinding: coping with historic pesticide treatments in the archive
Lora Angelova and Marc Vermeulen (The National Archives, UK), Sadat Nawaz (FERA Science Ltd, York Biotech Campus York, UK), Barbara Kafadaroğlu (ALAB GmbH, Berlin, Germany), Boaz Paz (PAZ Laboratorien GmbH, Germany), Francisco Moreta (Synergy Environmental Solutions Limited, UK), Margaret Veall and Maeve Moriarty (Canadian Conservation Institute).
Records from a popular series at The National Archives were found to bear warning labels that they have been bound using a ‘poisonous insecticidal solution’. Research into historic sources suggested that the agents used by bookbinders in the early 20th century were mercuric chloride, copper sulphate, and beechwood creosote; these may have been replaced by organochlorine pesticides (OCPs) such as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) mid-century. Analysis by X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy confirmed the presence of mercury in labelled, bound items. OCPs detected using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry included DDT, gamma-hexachlorocyclohexane (Lindane, γ-HCH), Dieldrin, pentachlorophenol, dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE), and 1-chloronaphthalene. Tests confirmed the presence of these agents on all items tested regardless of format (e.g. tagged files and bound volumes) or period of creation, suggesting the OCPs were introduced to the items after the binding process. An occupational hygienist consultancy was engaged to carry out in-situ air monitoring during production, digitisation, and general handling of the items. Risk assessments were developed based on the results, allowing readers and staff to once again access the collection with safety measures including the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Knowledge exchange networks with other archives and libraries have been created to continue discussions around this challenge.
Heavy metal - mercury pendulums 'rocking' in heritage displays
Emily Akkermans (Royal Museums Greenwich, UK)
The regulators held by the Royal Observatory Greenwich are a unique and important part of the site’s history. Often, the Astronomer Royal himself would commission and update these accurate clocks, some of which they used for nearly 200 years. Yet to achieve the accuracy required for astronomical observations, these regulators had pendulums with temperature compensation in the form of a glass jar filled with four kilograms of mercury. As many of the regulators are crucial to the history of the site, these are often on open display as a working object. This raises issues relating to conservation ethics, heritage values, and health and safety concerns for both staff and the public visiting our sites.
This paper will focus on our current practices for handling and displaying mercury in a public space, and the issues surrounding the operation of these objects. It also covers ongoing debates where we consider substituting the mercury with other materials and whether this is an appropriate solution. The decision to operate these historic instruments is a difficult one in its own right, the mercury pendulum adds an additional layer of challenges to these decisions.
Abstracts: Poster Session
About the effectiveness of cleaning scientific bird mounts at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin regarding the containing biocides.
S. Breiding (Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, Germany), E. Spiegel (Care for Art, Monich, Germany), J. Mehlhorn, C. Quaisser and S. Frahnert (Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, Germany)
The skins and mounts of the scientific bird collection at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, like all historical natural history collections, are contaminated with toxic metals and organochlorine pesticides (e.g. arsenic, lindane, DDT). As part of the Future Plan of the museum, the large bird hall will be refurbished and the 11,500 bird mounts inside have to move out of the hall. The specimens are particularly heavily polluted over time due to damage of the building envelope during the 2nd World War. In order to reduce health risks caused by contaminated dust during certain occupational activities, a cleaning system with suction unit for compressed air cleaning was developed to reduce the dust adhering to the specimens. To evaluate the effectiveness of cleaning, the formation of fine dusts during daily work activities was measured by particle number concentration (PNC). In addition, the dust was analyzed for toxic metals and organochlorine biocides by wipe sampling to determine the depletion rate. A specially adapted measurement method proves the dust reduction and effectiveness of cleaning. By vibrating the specimens in a standardised procedure the dust emission can be determined and significant depletion rates for fine dust (92%) and toxic metals (42%) are found.
1000 artefacts and counting: Managing asbestos during a large-scale collections move
Jacqueline Riddle and Skye Marshall (Ingenium, Ottawa, Canada)
Asbestos and asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) are ubiquitous in manufactured artefacts in historic collections. Although asbestos is a well-known collection hazard, treatment and hazard mitigation techniques remain relatively unpublished. In the Ingenium collection, asbestos is present in a wide variety of artefacts such as vehicles, household appliances, film projectors, protective clothing, and mineral specimens. Applying Ingenium’s comprehensive Collections Risk Management Program (CRMP) during the recent collections move, conservators identified over 1000 artefacts containing asbestos and the hazard was mitigated or remediated for each. Asbestos was identified primarily through visual confirmation and context, and some samples sent for external testing as needed. Hazard mitigation techniques included applying industrial-grade consolidants and encapsulants, isolation or removal of the ACM, or in extreme cases deaccession and hazmat disposal of the artefact. The vast majority of asbestos mitigation treatments were conducted by Ingenium conservators, and a select few were completed by specialised contractors to meet regulatory requirements.
This poster will present case studies of artefacts containing historic asbestos, highlighting the decision-making processes that led to each mitigation strategy. It will outline the specialised training Ingenium conservators received for this work, and emphasise how Ingenium places human safety at the forefront of our conservation and collections practices.
Advancing (Multi-)Methods for the Safe Handling of Biocide-Contaminated Objects: Introducing the MUSA Project and its First Results
E. Spiegel: presenting author (Care for Art, Munich, Germany), K. Deering and S. Rakete (Institute and Clinic for Occupational, Social and Environmental Medicine, Munich, Germany), C. Wübbe (Ascora GmbH, Ganderkesee, Germany), C. Grunwaldt (Kommunale Unfallversicherung Bayern, Munich, Germany)
Art and cultural property often contain hazardous substances, posing health risks to employees and visitors. Previous research showed that the levels of toxic substances in dust and air have the potential to harm health during certain occupational activities. To ensure the safety of employees, regular monitoring of hazardous substances in work places is essential. [1-3] However, the conventional analytical methods used for systematic analysis or large-scale studies are time-consuming and costly.
Therefore, we want to simplify ambient monitoring tools through our study titled " MUSA - Innovative (multi-)methods for the monitoring of toxic preservatives". The aim of the project is to assess the risk potential of contaminated objects in institutions by implementing a easily accesible monitoring
program. Our approach relies on data analysis to evaluate the hazard levels. In this presentation, we will introduce the MUSA project and present preliminary results from the MUSA database, which already contains and compares 180 data sets. Our research aims to improve the understanding of hazardous substances in art and cultural property and to enable more efficient and cost-effective monitoring processes.
From Poison Books to “Bibliotoxicology:” Highlighting Hazards in Paper-Based Library Collections
Melissa Tedone and Rosie Grayburn (Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library and the University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, US)
The Poison Book Project is an ongoing investigation of arsenic and other heavy metals in 19th-century Euro-American bookbindings. Project researchers have defined multiple methods of identification for arsenic in bookbindings and created a website to share findings and health and safety recommendations publicly. One of these methods was the creation of an emerald green color swatch bookmark, which has proven to be a successful outreach tool and has facilitated gathering ongoing crowd-sourced data.
These public outreach efforts brought project researchers into contact with conservation colleagues, allied professionals, and health & safety specialists working with library and archives collections such as bespoke bookbindings, scrapbooks, maps, and historical wallpapers. Heavy metals and pesticides are being found in a wide range of paper-based library collections, creating the need for an intentional working group to share challenges and brainstorm solutions within the library and archives context.
The Bibliotoxicology Working Group was thus formed in 2022 as an ad-hoc, international cohort of conservators, cultural heritage scientists, librarians, collection managers, book historians, and health and safety professionals. Forty members across 25 institutions and seven countries in North America, Europe, and Australasia explore reliable identification methodologies for toxic materials in library and archives collections and develop safer practices for managing such collections. We will discuss the working group’s past activities and future outputs, as well as sharing information about how to get involved in the group.
Do all museums have hazardous materials in the collection? We do, and what should we do with them?
Kristina Valiulis, Wim Nys and Roos Boons (DIVA, museum for diamonds, jewellery and silver, Antwerp, Belgium)
In 2014 two museums, the Antwerp Diamond museum and the Sterckshof Silver Museum fused to create one museum, DIVA the museum for diamonds, jewelry and silver. In 2018 DIVA opened her doors.
The collection consists of more than just diamonds, jewellery and silver. The 3D collection is made up of interior furnishings, ceramics, coins and medals, tin objects, weapons, tools for working silver and for diamonds, glass objects, plaster molds, brass models, …
In the past years, not only because the degree of registration of the objects has increased, but because the heritage sector has become more aware of the hidden dangers in the collections. DIVA had discovered several hazardous materials in her collection. This new awareness brings rise to many questions.
In 2017 a risk analysis was made of a 16th century mercury mirror. Recently asbestos has been discovered on diamond sawing-machines and laboratory equipment. Some of the tools for polishing diamonds, for example the polishing dops, have lead corrosion. To top it off poisonous chemicals for identifying precious metals and stone have discovered in the museum’s storage facility.
Dangerous heritage textiles and accessories
Saskia Van de Voorde and Zoë-Joy Vangansewinkel (War Heritage Institute, Belgium)
This poster concerns the challenges of the conservation of dangerous heritage in the War Heritage Institute, specifically within our collection of textiles and accessories. W e will show how to recognize the different hazardous materials. Last but not least we will probe the delicate equilibrium between conserving and caring for these objects while ensuring health and safety procedures for staff and public. Some objects that will be presented contain toxins like sulphamide, naphthalene and asbestos. We will explain both the objects by themselves within their historical context as well as the chemical aspects of the toxins contained within the objects.
Dangerous heritage: insights on safeguarding asbestos in heritage by means of consolidation and preventive care
Stefanie Bauvois, Romy Ruigrok and Sanne Wynants (Art Salvage, Belgium)
When facing asbestos in heritage objects, options are often limited to either careful storage or removal. As asbestos may be of value to the piece, removing it could result in the loss of knowledge. To contain the asbestos without posing risks we conducted a study in which we anticipated a twofold outcome; 1) consolidating to adhere fibers, and 2) protective packaging to block fiber emission. On consolidating we aimed at not altering the appearance of the piece as well as minimize potential risks to human health. Furthermore we selected eight well-known products with the intention of establishing methods which doesn’t requires specific knowledge or training. Two products met the predeterminate requirements and were applied on three test cases. After a fiber count test we concluded the products were successful in adhering fibers, however damaged parts may provide an additional challenge meaning further research is needed and being cautious remains highly recommended. Other than consolidating we explored some packaging designs suitable for heritage objects and build a prototype in which we used Tyvek 1442. A smoke test showed some promising results in fiber emission but we concluded further research needs to be carried out to develop a safe and sustainable packaging method.
Abstract: keynote session
Journey into a toxic past: pest control in museums at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century
Helene Tello (Freelance senior conservator, Germany)
The use of pesticides in museum collections at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century will be discussed in the socio-political context of Germans history. Embedded in the formation of nation states, the First World War, industrialization, and the subsequent hygiene movement, museums fought with various active ingredients and agents against the decay of their objects by harmful insects. Appearing as small self-contained institutions, they relied heavily on outside support. The Ethnological Museum in Berlin (EM), with its cultural-political significance, and geographical location, is ideally suited as a case study. There, an extensive collection policy policy led to completely overcrowded storages and exhibition halls, where harmful insects found plenty of food at the objects made of organic materials. As a consequence, individuals, scientific institutions, and a booming industry were feverishly searching for active ingredients and agents for combating harmful pests. The former staff at the EM began networking nationally and internationally to stop the infestation in the collections. Die the most innovative and revolutionary technological aid came from Sweden, where a pplant for mass fumigation of insect pests, specially constructed for museum facilities, was invented. It found its way through Finland and was spread to Germany and throughout Europe in the further course. This presentation on the history of conserving cultural assets against harmful pests complements our knowledge on the preservation of museum objects as well as on the assessment of human-toxic hazards that emanate from the formerly introduced active ingredients and agents in the collections objects.
Session 2 – Hazardous heritage as difficult heritage
Chair: Hélène Verreyke
Keynote session: Arthur McIvor
Oral history as heritage: Asbestos and community activism
Chair: Doris Blancquaert
Session 3 - Methods for detection, removal and treatment of material hazards
Chair: Suzie Thomas
Closing discussion session and proposal for new network
Abstracts: Session 2 - Hazardous heritage as difficult heritage
Asbestos as difficult heritage: the need for a multi-voiced heritage policy
Doris Blancquaert (University of Antwerp, Faculty of Design Sciences, Belgium)
Asbestos in heritage objects poses challenges not only in terms of identification and safety measures but also in conservation ethics since the removal of asbestos is not a self-evident matter. We need to ask ourselves what the relationship is between the heritage values of an object and asbestos. The question remains whether the asbestos component is an integral part of an object, and if – in that case – the removal of asbestos affects its heritage values.
Valuing asbestos heritage requires careful consideration. Given the history, production, consumption, and high lethality of asbestos, asbestos-containing heritage can be seen as difficult heritage. This type of heritage is associated with a troubling or unwanted past, evoking deep emotions, particularly for former labourers and individuals affected by asbestos-related diseases. It implies that the valua6on of asbestos heritage is not a self-evident matter and should take place in a multi-voiced and participatory process, giving a voice to all persons involved.
I will present a case study of an asbestos-containing museum object to illustrate how asbestos heritage objects were collected by museums in the past, how the presence of asbestos tends to make heritage become difficult and how it should be evaluated in a multi-voiced way.
Toxic agents and their agency: an exploration of the open-air museums and their contaminated vernacular buildings.
Anne-Sofie Hjemdahl (Telemarksforsking, Norway) and Terje Planke (Norsk Folkemuseum, Norway)
This paper has its empirical starting point in the project X-GiB - Toxins in the built heritage. Here the chemical conservation practice that took place in Norwegian open-air museums between 1890s-1990s is explored and questioned. The archives tell us that Creosote, Carbolineum, Bernakre, DDT and hydrocyanic acid were used to care for the buildings and make them resistant to fungi, insects, and rot. The X-GiB-project unfolds how this toxic materiality disturbs and challenges the built vernacular heritage ontology of today. It also focuses on how the museums through their restoration work and with different methods, try to bring their contaminated buildings into the future.
Inspired by actor-network theory (ANT) we approach this built heritage as a network of relations between the open-air museum and its staff, the authorized heritage bureaucracy, the authorized heritage discourse and values, the materiality of the buildings, the craftsmen’s restoration practice with their skills and bodies, and the public. We ask: What type of agency do the toxins have in this network of relations of today? To what extent do we find that the toxins affect and move the discourses about heritage value, restoration principles, restoration solutions and heritage ontology?
Combining an ethnographic approach inspired by the STS tradition and the study of science's exploration of knowledge production (see Latour and Woolgar 1979, Latour 1983; 2005), with action research, we seek to understand how the toxins affect, challenge and maybe also change the said network.
Disappearing facades: The challenges behind asbestos-containing façade materials heritage value and significance
Katariina Ruuska-Jauhijärvi (Helsinki City Museum, Finland)
Asbestos-containing materials have been commonly used in the past and they embody the construction ideals of their time, both technically and in the images created for consumers. Because they cannot be repaired or restored, they are exceptional compared to other façade materials. This makes their valuation, protection and conservation challenging. As the cultural-historical significance and future of asbestos-containing façade materials have not been studied widely in Finland before, the presentation addresses this gap in the field.
The presentation approaches the subject as a broader phenomenon utilizing literature and archive research as research methods. The presentation focuses on the cultural-historical significance of asbestos-containing façade materials and the implications of their removal, also recognizing the aspect of asbestos as difficult heritage. To enhance understanding, a thematic inventory focusing on asbestos-containing façade materials is presented as a research method. The inventory focuses on three key characteristics: the originality of the material used, the impact of the material on the architecture of the building, and the connection of the choice of material to the industry of the region.
In the presentation, it is argued that although asbestos-containing façade materials are no longer valued, their long history as part of built environments is undeniable and they should be recognized as part of the Finnish built heritage.
Danger and poison as two-sided coins. Indigenous stakeholders from Amazonia confronting dangerous materials in museum collections.
Andrea Scholz (Ethnological Museum Berlin, Germany)
Ethnological museums are increasingly developing into open places of exchange where descendants of so-called creator communities interact with "their" cultural belongings. Collaborative projects, joint research in collections and co-curated exhibitions have become the new state of the art in the context of ethnographic collection. The contamination of these collections by hazardous substances usually plays a subordinate, rather organisational role in these encounters.
However, it is worth taking a closer look here.
During my collaborative experiences with indigenous partners from Northwestern Amazonia since 2017, I have experienced many times that collection visits are not about "seeing objects" but about interacting with beings that are ascribed a life of their own. What role do the many levels of chemical poisoning inflicted on the indigenous cultural belongings play in this context? What ideas of danger and protection are effectively negotiated? Is a separation between so-called natural science and indigenous perspectives even possible in practice, especially when they have to be translated into new concepts of collection care?
Pleaing for a more holistic view of life and the extinction of life in the collections, this paper aims at giving some hints for thinking beyond disciplinary and cultural borders.
Abstracts: Session 3 - Methods for detection, removal and treatment of material hazards
Advanced (multi-)methods for safe handling of biocide contaminated objects: Development of the analytical methods and MUSA System
K. Deering and S. Rakete (Institute and Clinic for Occupational, Social and Environmental Medicine, Munich, Germany), E. Spiegel (Care for Art, Munich, Germany), C. Wübbe (Ascora GmbH, Ganderkesee, Germany) and C. Grunwaldt (Bavarian Municipal Accident Insurance, Munich, Germany)
It is well known that many collections and monuments used to be treated preventively and curatively with toxic preservatives. Even today, these treatments can pose a health risk toemployees in certain jobs. Currently, there is no simple and cost-effective way of analysing hazardous substances. Therefore, the MUSA project was started in June 2022.The goal of the MUSA-Project is the development of simple sampling methods for ambient monitoring, which can be carried out independently by the employees. The instrumentalanalysis is carried out in the laboratory. The results are the basis for the development of the user-friendly MUSA test kit.
The MUSA test kit can be used without laboratory knowledge. To assist the user, detailed instructions will be produced as how-to videos and will be made available on the MUSAplatform. The MUSA-Dashboard enables easy and quick access to all relevant information, from facts to ordering to evaluating the test kit. In the end, the MUSA test kits and the digital platform stand as a commercializable and user-friendly offer that can be used as a preventive tool for occupational safety. In this presentation, we show how the MUSA system works as well as initial results of the method development and implementation.
The assessment of objects for hazards via a collections management system workflow – an integrated approach
Larry Carr (Larry Carr H&S for Museums) and Alison Noble (National Museums Northern Ireland)
The migration of collections information to a workflow-driven collections management system (CollectionsIndex+) has enabled National Museums Northern Ireland (NMNI) to develop an integrated approach to the use of data about hazardous objects in its collection. This integration intends to provide NMNI with benefits including an expansion in the proactive assessment of objects for hazards, successful risk management of hazardous objects, improvements in the quality and accessibility of hazard data, whilst exceeding the UK’s collection management standard (Spectrum).
NMNI approached Larry Carr during the planning of the data migration to develop an object hazard workflow. The workflow involves the assessment of an object for potential hazards, initial data entry and data approval, allows for additional data to be subsequently incorporated and, where possible, concludes with “Safe to Move” (when a hazardous object’s risks are acceptably low). Tools have been created alongside the workflow to aid NMNI staff, including quick-reference tables and a hazardous substance terminology hierarchy. The workflow was then implemented into CollectionsIndex+ by the software developer (System Simulation Ltd).
This paper addresses the challenges of the achievement and is intended to share practical knowledge with heritage professionals working in areas such as hazardous collections management and collections information management.
Addressing the Presence of Arsenical Bindings in the British Library’s Collection
Amy Baldwin and Nicole Monjeau (British Library, UK)
This paper will cover our ongoing work to address the presence of copper acetoarsenite in nineteenth-century book materials at the British Library. We will focus upon the challenges of identifying arsenical materials within a collection of over 100 million items stored in multiple locations, and will detail the health and safety procedures specific to these materials which we are developing for Library staff and for the public.
Since beginning this work in early 2020 it has been apparent to us that the scale of British Library’s collections, storage infrastructures, and institutional procedures would pose unique challenges. Methods for identifying arsenical book materials adopted within smaller institutions are not feasible within an organisation of the size and complexity of the British Library, and our challenge has been to design an accessible, streamlined system which enables identification, limitation of exposure, and safe handling when necessary.
Developing methods of identification has gone hand in hand with developing bespoke health and safety practices, as any staff who handle collection items are potentially at risk of exposure. Communication with internal stakeholders has emphasised the importance of existing health and safety measures while working collaboratively to develop new bespoke solutions to protect staff and readers.
The Decontamination of Art and Cultural Assets using the Temperature and Humidity Controlled ICM Method
Boaz Paz and Sonja Behrendt (Paz Laboratorien GmbH, Germany)
This presentation is dedicated to the results of a systematic study on the reduction of biocide contamination in museum collection items treated with the humidity and temperature controlled Integrated Contamination Management Method (ICM). Due to the former use of insecticidal and fungicidal preservatives, employees working in museum collections are exposed to a significant health risk when handling contaminated objects. Given the requirements to minimise the use and handling of toxic substances and the obligations of employers regarding safe working environments for their employees, the museum sector worldwide needs adequate decontamination solutions. In contrast to extraction processes, thermal processes are independent of the polarity of pollutants and therefore applicable for both inorganic salts and organic compounds. Thermal decontamination is an established method of pest control, i.e., there exist already a large number of long-term tests to assess concerning material damages. Decontamination tests have already been carried out on objects made of organic materials such as wood, leather, paper, books, herbaria, taxidermy, and feathers. Of great interest in this context are the toxically derived limit values. The procedure also is a useful tool while answering questions as to when an object is decontaminated to such an extent that handling is follows occupational health and safety requirements.
All Bottled Up: Hazard Assessment of a Historic Pharmaceutical Collection
Kerith Koss Schrager (National September 11 Memorial & Museum, US), Nancie Ravenel and Anna Fowler (Shelburn Museum, US)
Historic pharmaceutical products are commonly found in global cultural heritage collections and can contain a variety of chemicals known to have adverse effects on human health. Workers in these occupational environments may not have the background or resources to properly anticipate the hazards and associated risk of handling these materials given the uncertainty regarding the exact contents of the containers and limited resources on their proper handling and care. Therefore, these collections have the potential to present an unknown exposure scenario to both museum workers and visitors. This paper will outline the results of a three-year Institute of Museum and Library Services funded grant to conduct a comprehensive collection survey of the estimated nine thousand containers of pharmaceutical items in the General Store and Apothecary Complex at Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, VT (USA). The project included a hazard assessment that investigated the concentrations of airborne chemical and particulate matter as well as surface lead and arsenic dust to determine if contaminants were originating from the collection. The results aimed to define worker exposure during the inventory, identify priorities for the maintenance of the collection, and create resources to assist other museums in the stewardship of similar collections.
The Collection Risk Management Program at Ingenium – Canada’s Museums of Science and Innovation
Erin Secord (Ingenium, Ottawa, Canada)
Ingenium: Canada’s Museums of Science and Innovation preserve the national collection of industrial, scientific, technological, agricultural and aerospace artifacts. Ingenium’s collection presents hazards to health and the environment, including artifacts with asbestos, mercury, pesticides, polychlorinated biphenols, poor condition tires and radioactive materials. From 2019 to 2023, Ingenium’s Conservation and Collection Management Division moved 150,000 artifacts from 4 storage buildings to a new purpose-built collection facility. A priority goal of the project was to assess the entire collection for hazards and identify and manage the over 9,000 hazardous artifacts found. To this end, a comprehensive and rigorous Collection Risk Management Program (CRMP) was developed by Ingenium’s Conservation Division. The CRMP addresses education, training, safe work practices, mitigation and remediation treatments, storage and reporting processes for over 35 identified hazard categories.
This paper will describe how the CRMP approach applied the Canada Labour Code and other relevant legislation to reduce the risk of injury and illness from exposure to collection hazards. Practical approaches to balancing collection access, conservation ethics and hazard remediation practices such as documentation, labelling, isolation, and removal and labelling of hazardous material will also be shared.
Abstract: keynote session
Oral history as heritage: Asbestos and community activism
Arthur McIvor (Scottish Oral Centre, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow)
This presentation discusses the issues around recording and preserving the oral history of toxic heritage communities, drawing upon my interview-based research on asbestos in Scotland and our Asbestos Archive at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. Capturing and preserving witnesses’ voices / memories of exposure to toxic and carcinogenic materials in the workplace, home and the wider environment enables us to critically reflect on the roles of key players in this toxic heritage disaster, including management, unions and community activists, such as Nancy Tait (SPAID) and Phyllis Craig (CAA).
It will be argued that these testimonies and the analysis of them provide key insights into toxic exposure, structural violence at work and the impacts of becoming chronically ill and disabled. Co-creating new evidence in witness interviews enables us to understand better the lived experience and the feelings of those directly affected by asbestos, as well as how ‘victims’ narrated their stories. This gets us beyond the bare statistical body counts of government regulators and health surveillance. Sharing the research and making the interviews and archives publically accessible also contributes to environmental justice campaigning.