MICHAEL ROSENOW, CIH, CSP, MPH,is a member of the AIHA Board of Directors and an industrial hygienist at Argonne National Laboratory. He can be reached at (630) 252-1213 or
DAMIEN HAMMOND, CIH,is president of the AIHA Potomac Local Section and president of Windjammer Environmental in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at (888) 270-8387 or
KATHRYN MAKOS, CIH, MPH,is a research collaborator with the National Museum of Natural History and retired from the Smithsonian Institution’s Office of Safety, Health and Environmental Management. She can be reached at
IH in a Museum, Part 2
BY MICHAEL ROSENOW, AIHA DIRECTOR; DAMIEN HAMMOND, PRESIDENT, AIHA POTOMAC LOCAL SECTION; AND KATHRYN MAKOS
We’ve all marveled at the historic beauty and delicacy of museum exhibits and their fabulous arrangements. But have you ever thought about the professionals who collect, conserve, restore, and preserve such artifacts?? These professionals are known as conservators, curators, collection managers, and registrars. They work at museums, libraries and archives, botanical gardens, and park service nature centers. Conservators also can be in private practice, working in their homes or small studios. Many are freelancers who choose the most challenging work in exotic places. Others interface with large multicultural teams across the globe to showcase priceless artifacts. This diverse work force is in need of our expertise.
HAZARDS OF COLLECTIONSThe process of acquiring, preparing, and caring for the storage, display, and study of museum exhibits, objects, and specimens offers occupational exposure scenarios not obvious to the practicing IH or safety professional. For example, those who work directly with collections at museums can be exposed to hazardous materials (including formaldehyde fixatives for fluid specimens, radioactive pigments, or mold) during several steps in the conservation process. Field collection work often involves trenching, digging, and diving, all of which have health and safety issues; those involved in paleo-specimen preparation, for instance, are exposed to silica dust from fossil rock matrices. Conservators work with hazardous substances such as solvents, acids/bases, and fine powders; often, handling older collections results in exposure to toxic residues of past treatments (such as arsenical and mercuric pesticides). If you work for a government or university, chances are your employer maintains a museum or teaching collection with these types of risks. A workshop on the hazards within art and museum collections was held during AIHA’s 2014 Fall Conference to raise awareness about the risk management needs of this work force. The 90-plus attendees (including 40 online) agreed that AIHA, its members, and its local sections are well-positioned to disseminate existing knowledge and create new knowledge about the exposure risks and effective controls needed to ensure best-practice health and safety programs in conservation and collection care workplaces.
A BUDDING COLLABORATIONBased on this momentum, collaborative project discussions have begun between AIHA’s leadership and the American Institute for Conservation (
AIC), the major international organization for conservators and collection care professionals. While health and safety is not the primary focus of AIC, it has been actively providing such resources to its 3,500 members for decades, primarily through its Health and Safety Committee, and more recently to a wider range of museum professionals through its Connecting to Collections Care Network. AIC experts can educate us about the varied hazards inherent in this occupation, build awareness about the potential contributions of an IH professional, and enable joint articles in both organizations’ publications and presentations at each other’s conferences. AIC polled its membership about their top priorities for working with IH professionals to address the needs in collection care. Responses included exposure monitoring; ventilation surveys; lab design; webinars and fact sheets on safe handling of contaminated collections; PPE selection; chemical handling and storage; laser and radiation safety training venues; emergency response training and preparedness; and mold remediation. A growing number of health and safety professionals are now serving as advisors to the AIC Health and Safety Committee. AIHA’s Potomac Local Section and the Washington Conservation Guild, an AIC-affiliated “section,” are attending each other’s meetings, collaborating on museum IAQ studies, and presenting respiratory protection workshops for WCG members. Several conservator groups have expressed interest in connecting with us, and this network can expand anywhere in the U.S. As awareness of the IH role in preservation and collection care grows, AIHA wants to hear about your interest. Please contact the authors for more information and ways for you to become involved.
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The majority opinion in Industrial Union Department, AFL-CIO, v. American Petroleum Institute et. al. read:
"If ... the odds are one in a billion that a person will die from cancer by taking a drink of chlorinated water, the risk clearly could not be considered significant. On the other hand, if the odds are one in a thousand that regular inhalation of gasoline vapors that are 2% benzene will be fatal, a reasonable person might well consider the risk significant."
An article in the AIHA 75th Anniversary supplement to the September 2014 Synergist that discusses the one-in-a-thousand risk benchmark for OSHA's Permissible Exposure Limits is available in the Synergist archives on the AIHA website (login required).
Editor's note: The original wording of this sentence, which appears in the print version of this article, implies that the author has knowledge of a specific scenario where leukemia was attributed to pumping gas. The sentence has been edited here to better convey the author's intent.