Assessment of Arsenic Dust Surface Contamination in a Museum Anthropology Department
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In the early 19th century, arsenic (As) became a commonly used preservative to ensure the longevity of artifacts in museum collections. This practice lasted well into the 20th century with usage of As in museum settings noted into the 1970’s. Use of As-based preserving agents was not well documented and many of the collections in which it was utilized have been pieced out. This lack of information creates a specific hazard to current museum employees and patrons as the toxicity of As is well-understood and is classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The authors were contacted by the anthropology department of a major museum in the Midwestern United States to assess potential As contamination of work surfaces and to validate the museum’s current control strategy. Upon observation of work procedures and work practices and a review of the current control strategy, an exposure assessment utilizing wipe sampling was performed. A total of 35 sampling targets were identified throughout the department, including work stations, a lunch room, and offices. Arsenic analysis was performed using reference method NIOSH 7300/OSHA ID ID-125G. Of the 35 samples, four separate areas returned positive As results. These areas were transport cart cover papers, artifact containers, an unused workstation, and buttons inside an elevator. Positive As wipe sample measurements ranged from 0.052 to 0.350 μg/100 cm2 . Recommendations for control included new strategies for the handling and disposal of sheets of paper used to cover the transport cart when transporting artifacts from storage areas to the laboratory. Additional recommendations included additional training of employees on the proper usage and disposal of nitrile gloves and lab coats to protect from As contamination. Improvements in housekeeping techniques that will help ensure that As dust is not allowed to collect were also recommended. Finally, changes to training of new and current employees and museum As spot testing and tagging practices for artifacts were also recommended to ensure that work place hazards are well known and clearly identified.