Appendix C
Toxics Inventory: What is it and how do I write one?

What is a Toxics Inventory?
A Toxics Inventory is a list of poisonous substances that have or may have been used to treat organic collections. A carefully developed Toxics Inventory may help determine the types of toxics objects may have been exposed to.

How do I write a Toxics Inventory?

  • Look at published reports, internal documents and archival records.
  • Establish a timeframe for the use of each substance, as closely as possible. This may be useful in narrowing down which objects were treated.
  • Consult with current and former employees to learn about prior practices and/or standards in the museum field.
  • Consider the inventory a living document. Revise it periodically to refine and update the information.
  • Suggested headings include:
    • An Introduction describing your institution's ethnographic collection and any known pesticides use.
    • Substances that are known to have been applied to collections.
    • Substances used in the museum profession that may have been applied to collections.
    • Notes about specific toxics and their use.
    • Sources of information and data recorded.

Toxics Inventory

California Department of Parks and Recreation
State Museum Resource Center


The Department of Parks and Recreation’s ethnographic collection is primarily an assemblage of private collections. We assume that it reflects the treatments that might have been in use from 1890 to the present. We are aware of potentially hazardous treatments through anecdotal information, discussions with colleagues, professional literature, and personal experience.

As a result of the history of treatments, both known and unknown, we take safety measures to minimize direct contact with ethnographic materials. We wear protective clothing, including smocks and gloves, and we often wear dust masks when working with the collections.

Substances that we know have been used on our collections include:
Black Flag Insecticide (fumigant)
Para-dichlorobenzine (PDB) (Insecticide/fumigant)
Vapona (Shell No Pest Strip)

Substances used widely in the museum profession, that we suspect could have been used on our collections include:
Carbon tetrachloride (fumigant)
Ether (used in cleaning)

Notes regarding pesticide use on collections at the State Museum Resource Center (SMRC):

Arsenic and strychnine: According to anecdotal information these substances were used by private collectors and some museum sites until c. 1950; staff and others have been instructed to look for white crystal substances on artifacts. Staff found white crystals/powder when unpacking natural history specimens. No confirmation regarding use at SMRC. None found by industrial hygienist during assessment in early l990s (PG) although hygienist’s air tests were concentrated on fumes from paint booth (CS).
Black Flag (fumigant): Used on ethnographic materials in the late 1980s, specifically on items transferred from the Indian Museum to the Resource Center; noted on transfer documents; strong odor detected by personnel who opened the boxes. Staff at State Indian Museum was queried when the strong odor was detected, and were told that the objects were sprayed with Black Flag while being prepared for transfer.
Paradichlorbenzyene: Also mothballs or insect repellent, could smell residue and empty containers were present but substance was not used on objects after 1985.
Vapona strips: Used in 1970s – 80s; highly toxic to people; bleached artifacts and caused other forms of physical damage. CS didn’t see damage on items at Resource Center but has seen it on various natural history specimens while in the field

Compiled by Paulette Hennum, Museum Curator II, Museum Services Section
(CS) Christina Swiden
(PG) Pauline Grenbeaux