Health & Safety: Risk Management for Pesticide-Contaminated Collections

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Health & Safety Committee Conservation Wiki
Copyright: 2014. The Health & Safety Wiki pages are a publication of the Health & Safety Committee of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.
Disclaimer: Some of the information included on this page may be out of date, particularly with regard to toxicological data and regulatory standards. Also, because new information on safety issues is continually published, resources outside of AIC should be consulted for more specific information.

Contributors to this page: Kerith Koss Schrager

The following procedures will help create a risk management plan for the safe handling of pesticide-contaminated objects.Contamination includes all current pesticide treatments,legacy hazards from historic treatments and toxic elements inherent to the collection.

For additional health & safety resources see, Health and Safety Technical Resources for the Conservator


Determining whether pesticide residues are present on objects canbe difficult since the residues are often not visible to the naked eye.

  • Chemical or analytical tests are required to confirm the presence of pesticides
  • Learn to recognize the types of collections that are commonly treated and the types of pesticides that are used on those collections
  • Keep in mind that organic ethnographic, taxidermied and botanical collections were regularly treated with pesticides such as arsenic,mercury and DDT


General Overview of Pesticides Use in Collections

  • Rossol, M., and W.C. Jessup. 1996. “No Magic Bullets: Ethical Considerations for Pest Management Strategies,” International Journal of Museum Management and Curatorship 15 (2): 145-68.This paper provides a cohesive and authoritative understanding of the ethical, legal, and regulatory aspects of pest management which must be considered when selecting treatments.

Types of Pesticides

  • APPENDIX:COMMON MUSEUM PESTICIDES.Charola, A.E. and Koestler, R.J. (eds.). Pesticide Mitigation in Museum Collections: Science in Conservation: Proceedings from the MCI Workshop Series. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press:71-72.

Health Hazards Associated with Pesticides

  • Handbook of Pesticide Toxicology, 1991, Hayes, W.J., Jr., and E.R. Laws, Jr. (eds.), 3 vols., Academic Press. Covers general principles of pesticide toxicology, effects of pesticide classes, and data on 256 compounds that have documented human effects.
  • Linnie, M.J. 1990. “Conservation: Pest Control in Museums: The Use of Chemicals and Associated Health Problems,” International Journal of Museum Management and Curatorship 9: 419-33. Provides an overview to many of the chemicals currently used in museums and their documented health effects.

Pesticide Testing


If pesticides have been identified,conduct an assessment to define the severity of the contamination and the risks associated with handling,storing or displaying contaminated objects.

  • Determine if the contamination can be contained or eliminated
  • Consult an Industrial Hygienist or Safety Professional
  • Identify exposure risks through personal monitoring while performing work tasks
  • Use exposure study results to decide feasible ways to remediate or control exposures


Finding a Safety Specialist

Personal Monitoring

Environmental Monitoring



In many cases,objects cannot be completely decontaminated and should be isolated to prevent contamination of cabinets, work spaces and exhibitions cases.

  • Clean objects using a HEPA-vacuum for dust suppression or wash to remove contaminants
  • Use a fume hood or trunk whenever possible
  • Consult federal, state and local regulations for proper disposal of each type of pesticide on objects and materials—they may be EPA regulated hazardous waste
  • Process specimens quickly to remove treatment hazards and cover during transport


Cleaning & Remediating Pesticide-Contaminated Objects

  • Hollinger, R.E. and Hansen, G. 2010. Discussion: Mitigation of Contaminated Collections.Charola,A.E. and Koestler, R.J. (eds.). Pesticide Mitigation in Museum Collections:Science in Conservation: Proceedings from the MCI Workshop Series. Washington,D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press: 65-70.

Materials for Decontamination, Remediation & Isolation

  • Conservation Resources Archival boards, films and foams, storage boxes, trays and HEPA vacuums
  • Conservation Support Systems Personal protective equipment, archival storage supplies, plastic films
  • Gaylord Archival boards, films and foams, storage boxes and trays
  • Grainger Lab supplies, personal protective equipment, plastic sheeting, testing supplies and spill kits
  • Talas Conservation supplies including personal protective equipment and HEPA vacuums

Hazardous Waste Disposal


Anyone who will be in contact with contaminated objects or areas must receive periodic training for handling,treatment and cleaning.

  • Always wear and have in stock the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as gloves, respirators,lab coats,Tyvek suits and goggles that are approved for the identified contaminant
  • Create a written plan describing safety protocols once a contaminated object has been identified


Safety Training

Personal Protective Equipment

Writing a Safety Plan


Learning to effectively communicate about hazards is an important step in safety in the workplace.

  • Post warning signs for staff and visitors, alerting them to thehazard and required access procedures
  • Learn legal and ethical practices for the disclosure ofpesticide-contaminated items that are going to be shipped,loaned or repatriated
  • Get hazard identification from all lenders of collections,including your own staff


Hazard Communication

Loaning, Shipping and Repatriation

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