Hide & Fur Mittens 

(Photo by Kathy Bade)

In the course of an inventory at a local county historical society museum, a green crystalline powdery substance in the fur was discovered on this pair of gloves.  After consulting a conservator, a warning was placed with the object until the item could be deaccessioned and destroyed. 

Arsenic and arsenic compounds that sometimes contain anthracene are used in the manufacture of pigments, sheep-dips, leather preservatives, and poisonous baits. They are also used in catalysts, pyrotechnics, antifouling agents in paints, pharmaceutical substances, dyes and soaps, ceramics, alloys (automotive solder and radiators), and electrophotography.

Arsenic has been used in the preparation of natural history specimens going back to the early 1800s and was used as late as the 1980s.  One of the most common uses of arsenic in taxidermy preparation was arsenical soap composed of the white powder arsenic trioxide mixed with soap, subcarbonate of potash, camphor, and alcohol. The resulting paste was applied to the inside of the animal and bird skins, and readily comes through the skins to the surface where it can be transferred to human hands or contaminate other objects it contacts. Arsenic causes health problems in the eyes, lungs, liver, kidneys, skin, and lymphatic system and is also considered a carcinogen. The arsenic inside a taxidermy mount becomes dangerous if it migrates through the skin to form a dust or if you cut the specimen open. If you sit down to eat under taxidermy, visually inspect the specimen for the presence of characteristic white arsenic dust.  

These powdery or crystalline deposits are normally found at the base of hairs and feathers, around eyes, in or at the base of ears, around mouths or bills, and on foot pads. In addition to this examination, knowing the object’s istory and when it was prepared, will be helpful to determine if arsenic was used. If possible test specimens for arsenic, as the absence of white powder does not mean the absence of arsenic. (Arsenic Health and Safety Update.
Download ConserveOGram on arsenic in collections

In most cases, arsenic contaminated taxidermy specimens are safe if the dust can be contained, which means exhibiting them inside sealed cases or storing them inside polyethylene bags or in a closed cabinet with appropriate warning labels.

Red Comet Carbon-tet Fire Grenades - Another "Hazardous Find" at a Local County Historical Society Museum.

(Photo by Kathy Bade)

Red comet, a Littleton, CO company, was one of the largest manufacturers of carbon-
tet fire grenades for home use, also known as carbon tetrachloride bombs or "fire bombs."   Red Comet became known for development of the "smash or slug" method of crashing glass and scattering the fluid in midair.

The Red Comet Company began in 1919
and ceased manufacturing in the 1980s

(Photo by Rose Kubiatowicz)

 Carbon tetrachloride (CTC) is an organic compound with the chemical formula CCl₄.  It is a colorless liquid with a "sweet" smell that can be detected at low levels and has practically no flammability at lower temperatures.

According to Kathleen Watkin, Emma Morris & Wendy Fitch's 2016 article, Glass Grenade Style Fire Extinguisher “Bombs:" Are They Safe?   (Museums of Saskatchewan, extinguisher-bombs-are-they-safe), "Exposure for more than fifteen minutes can lead to respiratory, gastrointestinal, kidney, thyroid, brain, reproductive and developmental problems; which lead to death in many cases. When (carbon tetrachloride) CTC is exposed to the heat of a fire, it can produce phosgene gas, a chemical weapon used in WWI."  When (carbon tetrachloride) CTC is exposed to the heat of a fire, it can produce phosgene gas, a chemical weapon used in WWI."  

Carbon tetrachloride is classified as a probable human carcinogen by EPA (Group B2) and IARC (Group 2B), and as a suspected human carcinogen by the ACGIH (Category A2), based on positive carcinogenicity studies in rats, mice, and hamsters. In the final rule, OSHA is establishing a 2-ppm 8-hour TWA limit for carbon tetrachloride. (