Solutions – Pesticide Treatment of Collections Areas

Introduction:

Since the advent of DDT in the late 1940’s, it has been a common belief that insect infestations can easily be eliminated with the application of pesticides. In fact, relying on pesticides to solve insect problems in museum settings is limited at best. Insecticides are a short-term “fix” for most insect infestations in a collection storage and exhibition setting. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) was  developed to avoid the use of pesticides, instead using a variety of strategies to determine the source of an infestation, the reasons an infestation exists, and then address permanent, non-chemical solutions to these problems.Chemical pesticides can be distinguished from chemical fumigants. View more information on fumigants.The IPM-WG and Museumpests.net does not advocate the use of pesticides or fumigants . This brief overview is intended to inform members of the museum, library, and archives communities about pesticides and to clarify frequently misunderstood  terminology and concepts. The information provided here is given to assist preservation personnel in evaluating treatment options that may be recommended by qualified professionals. This overview also serves as a cautionary statement, and to direct readers to further
resources.

Can collection materials be treated with pesticides?

Cultural materials should NEVER be treated with direct pesticide treatment by space fogging, direct spraying or dusting. Any direct application of a pesticide will inalterably change the chemical make-up of an object or artifact.

Treatment of building cracks and crevices

However, residual or contact pesticide application to cracks and crevices of collection storage areas or exhibit spaces can be an effective tool to help eliminate certain types of localized
infestations. These may only be applied by licensed individuals. The information provided here is intended to assist preservation personnel in evaluating treatment options that may be recommended by qualified professionals. Care must be taken not to
expose the collection materials to the pesticides during the application process. If after careful consideration the collecting institution decides to consult with hire a licensed pest management contractor to use a pesticide in the building, it is recommended that all pest incidents and any treatment be recorded. If a pest
management professional proposes to use a pesticide in a facility, they should supply institution staff with a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for each pesticide. The MSDS should be retained according to building safety procedures in an easily accessible place for future reference. A detailed, written plan of application should
be offered by the professional to museum management to insure collections are not exposed to pesticides. A staff member should accompany the professional on each visit. Even though such pesticides should never be applied directly to collections
items, the use of any chemical treatment in a building should be documented and it should be possible to access the history of infestation and eradication procedures. The IPM policy statements on this site give examples of the ways that various museums carry out documentation. Click here to access the Policy and Procedures templates.

General procedures for pesticide application to building cracks and crevices:

Residual pesticides are those which, after having been applied,
remain effective for at least a week or more. Contact insecticides, as implied by the term, kill insects on contact. Most residual or contact pesticide applications, performed by a pest management contractor, entail the use of concentrated pesticides diluted in water and applied with a pressurized hand sprayer. Some pesticides are
available in pressurized, aerosol formulations, which use solvents and hydrocarbon-based propellants to carry the pesticide droplets into cracks and crevices. Pesticide dusts are applied with a hand-duster or aerosol formulation and are applied to voids, cracks, and crevices. Pesticide fogs are contact insecticides and are designed to treat an entire space. They are usually generated with some type of mechanical device. The droplets of fog contain solvents and oils, which remain suspended in the air for a period of several hours until finally settling out on everything in the treated space.

Pros and Cons of these types of treatment:

Cons:

  • Any pesticide residue directly or inadvertently deposited on collection materials is unacceptable. These residues will inalterably change the object or artifact. Adverse chemical reactions between the pesticide or its carriers and the collection materials can occur and cause irreversible damage to the object or artifact. Staining can occur during the application process
    from the water, solvents, or pesticide as it comes in contact with the collection material.
  • Museum personnel or others may handle the treated collections and thus expose themselves to pesticide residues, which may be toxic to humans. This was especially evident when many mammalogy, ornithology, herpetology, and anthropology collections were treated with arsenic soap or powders in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. Staff and researchers today must be careful when handling older artifacts or taxidermy mounts because of these applications.

Pros:

  • Careful crack and crevice application of pesticides by a licensed pest management professional can assist in controlling certain pest populations. Endemic, area-wide infestations of carpet beetles, silverfish, ants, cockroaches, and booklice (psocids) may be at least partially controlled with residual pesticide applications. Note, however, that clothes moth and carpet beetle infestations entrenched in susceptible objects and artifacts cannot be controlled with these types of applications.
  • In institutions with food serving and/or vending facilities, application of pesticide baits, sprays, and dusts may be warranted, if applied by a licensed pest management contractor. These types of applications are normally used
    for cockroach and ant control.
Resources

Visit the Resources – Residual
Pesticides
page on this website for additional resources.

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Integrated Pest Management Working Group Treatments Subgroup February 2010, Updated February 2012, March 2017

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