TSG Chapter III. Environmental Concerns for Textiles - Section D. Biological Attack

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Contributors: Originally drafted by Sarah C. Stevens. Contributions from: Mary Ballard, Lucy Commoner, Shirley Ellis, Robin Hanson, Irene Karsten, Richard Kerschner, Teresa Knutson, Anne Murray, Zoe Annis Perkins, Patty Silence, Jan Vuori.
Editors: Kathy Francis, Mary Kaldany, Nancy Love, Nancy Pollak, Deborah Lee Trupin. Copy Editor/Layout Consultant: Jessica S. Brown. Original content date: April 2, 1998.

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Biological Attack

Factors to consider

*Many pests are drawn to specific materials.
*Certain environmental conditions, such as high RH and high temperature, will foster pest activity.
*Institutional policies can have a significant effect on prevention of infestations. For example, maintaining a separate room in which objects can be received and examined can control the introduction and spread of pest problems.
*Health and safety issues
  • Chemical measures (pesticides), if used, present health risks. Objects that received previous treatment with pesticides may contain dangerous chemical residues, such as arsenic.
  • Mammals and birds may become hostile if trapped or cornered.
  • Feces and/or bird droppings may cause disease in humans if handled without protection.
  • Human reactions to mold vary; some people are allergic or very sensitive to the presence of mold.
  • Use appropriate personal protective equipment, such as gloves and mask/respirator.

Sources of biological attack for textiles

Insects
Identification
Insects that most commonly damage textile collections include: clothes moths (casemaking and webbing), carpet beetles (variegated and black), and silverfish.
  • Learn to identify insects: eggs, larvae, adults, and frass.
  • Use traps to monitor and identify.
  • Use references to aid identification; consult an entomologist if necessary.
  • Learn about insects’ lifecycles to know when to look for activity.
  • Learn to identify damage produced by insects: bitten holes with clean edges; cases or webbing; staining.
Conditions that promote infestation
  • Types of material: wool, silk, hair, feathers, and fur (proteinaceous materials) are the most susceptible to insect infestation.
  • RH over 55%
  • Warm temperatures
  • Dark and undisturbed places
  • Poor housekeeping with accumulation of dust, lint, other debris
  • Soiled textiles
  • Proximity of other animal debris (e.g., bird nests, carcasses of rodents in or near building)
  • Human activity (e.g., food and drink in or near collections areas; use of live plants and flowers)
Control and prevention methods
  • Isolate infested object(s) or space in case of a large infestation.
  • Reduce humidity and lower temperature as appropriate and possible.
  • Use nonchemical treatments if possible.
  • Freeze or use anoxic treatment to kill eggs, larvae, and adults.
Consult technical literature for specifics on techniques and follow-up. In some cases, chemical pesticides may be warranted. For example, carpet beetles may be living in ceilings or walls or between floorboards, making it difficult to identify the source of the infestation. Chemical pesticides should only be used by trained personnel following proper regulations and health and safety guidelines.
  • Vacuum after treatment to remove carcasses, eggs, and frass.
  • Isolate and monitor before returning infested objects to the rest of the collections. Repeated treatments may be needed.
  • Establish and maintain policies restricting food, drink, and plant use.
  • Institute good housekeeping.
Mammals
Identification
Mammals that most typically damage textile collections are rodents, which chew textiles to use for nesting materials.
  • Learn to identify mammals (remains, nests, and excrement).
  • Learn to recognize signs of mammal infestation: damage (large, chewed-looking holes, urine and excrement stains, and partially-eaten food packaging, candles, and soaps).
Conditions that promote mammal infestation
  • Human activity (e.g., food and drink left in unsealed containers in or near collections areas; soap or candles left in the open)
  • Dirt and debris to build nests and feed
  • Poorly sealed building envelopes that facilitate entry
  • Dark and undisturbed places
Control and preventive methods
Establish and maintain policies restricting food and drink.
  • Institute good housekeeping.
  • Trap to control infestation.
  • If using humane traps (e.g., Havahart®), the trapped animals must be released miles away.
  • If using snap traps, they must be checked and emptied daily to dispose of dead rodents that would attract carpet beetles.
  • Sticky traps for rodents/mammals are not recommended, both for humane reasons and because they can be dragged to inaccessible places where retrieval is impossible, again leading to carpet beetle infestation.
  • Poison bait may be warranted when numerous rodents are present and if other measures are ineffective. Poisons should only be used by trained personnel following regulations and health and safety guidelines.
Microorganisms (mold, mildew, bacteria)
Identification
  • Black, white, or green growth or stains. Active microorganisms have some dimension and look fluffy or moist.
  • Musty odor
  • Allergic reactions in some people
Conditions that promote growth of microorganisms
  • High RH (above 65%), at elevated temperatures, especially in combination with other factors below and in objects that have a high equilibrium moisture content.
  • Poor ventilation or still air
  • Low or no light
  • Dirt, oils, waxes
  • Residues from textile processing (e.g., starches, sizes)
Control and preventive methods
  • Reduce RH levels and turn on lights to slow or stop microorganism growth.
  • Isolate object(s) containing mold to prevent further spreading. Use care if moving textiles so as not to contaminate the air and other collections.
  • Remove surface growth by vacuuming with HEPA filtration, taking care to direct the vacuum exhaust so that it does not spread the mold further.
  • If environmental controls and surface cleaning do not address the problem, research and individual testing of treatments are necessary. Potential interventive treatments may include fungicides (methyl bromide, ethylene oxide, methyl chloride), wet/alcohol cleaning, and treatment with ultraviolet radiation. Note that fungicides may have health risks.
  • Once an active infestation is controlled, increase air circulation in the area.
  • Monitor regularly for future growth, remembering that mold spores are everywhere and will flourish in a conducive environment.
  • Institute good housekeeping.
  • Prewash fabrics used to wrap collections to reduce residues from textile processing.

Further Reading

Appelbaum, B. 1991. Guide to environmental protection of collections. Madison, Conn.: Sound View Press.

Brokerhof, A.W. Solarization: a cheap but effective method to disinfest museum objects. ICOM Committee for Conservation preprints. 13th Triennial Meeting, Rio de Janeiro. London: James & James, 15–20.

Burke, J. 1999. Anoxic microenvironments: A treatment for pest control. Conserve O Gram 3/9 (May). Washington, D.C.: National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/museum/publications/conserveogram/03-09.pdf (accessed February 24, 2017)

Commoner, L. A. 1992. Warning signs: When textiles need conservation. In Conservation concerns: A guide for collectors and curators. Ed. K. Bachmann. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Canadian Conservation Institute. 1996. Mould growth on textiles. CCI Notes 13/15. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Canadian Heritage. http://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2011/pc-ch/NM95-57-13-15-2008-eng.pdf (accessed April 8, 2018)

Chicora Foundation. 1994. Managing pests in your collections. Columbia, S.C.: Chicora Foundation. http://www.cool.conservation-us.org/byorg/chicora/chicpest.html (accessed February 24, 2017)

Child, R. E. 1998. Monitoring insect pests with sticky traps. Conserve O Gram 3/7 (August). Washington, D.C.: National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/museum/publications/conserveogram/03-07.pdf (accessed February 24, 2017)

Florian, M. E. 2002. Fungal facts: Solving fungal problems in heritage collections. London: Archetype Publications.

Guild, S. and M. MacDonald. 2004. Mould prevention and collection recovery: Guidelines for heritage collections. CCI Technical Bulletin No. 26. Ottawa, Ontario: Canadian Conservation Institute. http://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2016/pch/NM95-55-26-2004-eng.pdf (accessed April 8, 2018)

Landi, S. 1992. The textile conservator’s manual. 2d ed.Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Maekawa, S., and K. Elert. 2003. The use of oxygenfree environments in the control of museum insect pests. Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute. http://www.getty.edu/conservation/publications_resources/pdf_publications/pdf/oxygen_free_environ_vl.pdf (accessed February 24, 2017)

Mailand, H. F., and D. S. Alig. 1999. Preserving textiles: A guide for the nonspecialist. Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Merritt, J. 1993. Causes, detection, and prevention of mold and mildew on textiles. Conserve O Gram 16/1 (July). Washington, D.C.: National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/museum/publications/conserveogram/16-01.pdf (accessed February 24, 2017).

Merritt, J. 1993. Mold and mildew: Prevention of microorganism growth in museum collections. Conserve O Gram 3/4 (July). Washington, D.C.: National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/museum/publications/conserveogram/03-04.pdf (accessed February 24, 2017)

Pinniger, D. B. 1998. Controlling insect pests: Alternatives to pesticides. Conserve O Gram 3/8 (August). Washington, D.C.: National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/museum/publications/conserveogram/03-08.pdf (accessed February 24, 2017)

Pinniger, D. B. 2001. Pest management in museums, archives and historic houses. London: Archetype Publications.

Price, L. O. 1996. Mold: Managing a mold invasion:Guidelines for disaster response. Technical Series No. 1. Philadelphia: Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts. http://www.ccaha.org/uploads/media_items/managing-a-mold-invasion-guidelines-for-disaster-response.original.pdf (accessed February 24, 2017)

Raphael, T. 1994. An insect control procedure: The freezing process. Conserve O Gram 3/6 (July). Washington, D.C.: National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/museum/publications/conserveogram/03-06.pdf (accessed February 24, 2017)

Sandwith, H., and S. Stainton, comps. 2006. The National Trust manual of housekeeping: The care of collections in historic houses open to the public. London: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Story, K. 1985. (Updated 1998.) Approaches to pest management in museums. Washington, D.C.: Conservation Analytical Laboratory, Smithsonian Institution. https://www.si.edu/mci/downloads/articles/AtPMiM1998-Update.pdf (accessed February 24, 2017)

Strang, T. J. K. 1996. Detecting infestations: Facility inspection procedure and checklist. CCI Notes 3/2. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Canadian Heritage. http://canada.pch.gc.ca/eng/1439925170144 (accessed February 24, 2017)

Strang, T. J. K. 1996. Preventing infestations: Control strategies and detection methods. CCI Notes 3/1. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Canadian Heritage. http://canada.pch.gc.ca/eng/1439925170131/1439925167388 (accessed February 24, 2017)

Strang, T. J. K. 1997. Controlling insect pests with low temperatures. CCI Notes 3/3. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Canadian Heritage. https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/cci-icc/documents/services/conservation-preservation-publications/canadian-conservation-institute-notes/3-3-eng.pdf (accessed April 8, 2018)

Textile Conservation Center. 1985. The nature of mold growths on textiles. Lowell, Mass.: Textile Conservation Center.

Textile Conservation Center. (no date). Some effects of unremoved soils on historic textiles. Technical Bibliographies. Lowell, Mass.: Textile Conservation Center.

Thomson, G. 1986. The museum environment. 2d ed. London: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Tímár-Balázsy, Á. and D. Eastop. 1998. Chemical properties of textile conservation. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.

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