| Conservation staff at MOA have begun a study to determine if objects in the museum's collection are contaminated with substances that may present health concerns to people handling the collections. In the past, art dealers, collectors and museums often used chemical products to prevent insect or rodent damage. While these chemicals were very effective in preserving objects, in many cases they left a heavy metal residue that still remains on the objects today. As a result, objects with such residues may pose a health risk to those who handle or use them.
There are few records regarding the use of these pesticides, so little is known about which objects have been contaminated and with what chemicals. Thanks to funding from Canadian Heritage's Museum Assistance Programme, the Pesticide Residue project will allow MOA to determine the level and extent of possible pesticide contamination on the collections.
The XRF spectrometer.
Objects are tested for pesticide residues.
It has been estimated that up to 9,000 objects are at risk for contamination. The year-long project plans to test 2,500 high-risk objects using a non-destructive, hand-held X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) Spectrometer that was purchased with the assistance of the Canada Foundation for Innovation. The XRF is completely portable and will allow easy testing of even large items such as totem poles.
Two main outcomes of the project - determination of the health risks inherent in contaminated objects, and the development of guidelines for handling and using these objects - will be of immense value to originating communities who wish to borrow or repatriate objects. The results will also be of use to smaller institutions across BC and Canada that have similar collections but lack the resources for XRF testing.