Inert Gases in the Control of Museum Insect Pests

Charles Selwitz and Shin Maekawa


108 pages

PDF file size: 1.4 MB


A serious problem facing museum professionals is the protection of collections from damage due to insects. This book describes successful insect eradication procedures developed at the Getty Conservation Institute and elsewhere, whereby objects are held in an atmosphere of either nitrogen or argon containing less than 1000 ppm of oxygen—a process known as anoxia—or in an atmosphere of more than 60 percent carbon dioxide.

Techniques, materials, and operating parameters are described in detail. The book also discusses adoption of this preservation technology, presenting the development of these methods and instructions for building and upgrading treatment systems, as well as recent case histories.

The Research in Conservation reference series presents the findings of research conducted by the Getty Conservation Institute and its individual and institutional research partners, as well as state-of-the-art reviews of conservation literature. Each volume covers a topic of current interest to conservators and conservation scientists.

Table of Contents

  • Foreword
    Miguel Angel Corzo
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1: Mechanisms of Insect Mortality
    • Desiccation
    • Anoxia at High Humidities
  • Chapter 2: Anoxia as a Conservation Procedure
    • From Food Preservation to Conservation
    • Early Museum Anoxia Studies
    • Determining Kill Times
    • Thermal Techniques
    • Killing Burrowed Insects
  • Chapter 3: Methods and Materials
    • Barrier Films
    • Gas Supplies
    • Oxygen Scavengers
    • Closures
      • Heat Sealers
      • Zippers
      • Clamps
      • Adhesive Strips
    • Portals
  • Chapter 4: Operational Problems and Practices
    • Humidification
    • Argon versus Nitrogen
    • Monitors
      • Electronic Oxygen Monitors
      • Passive Oxygen Monitors
      • Carbon Dioxide Monitors
      • Relative Humidity Monitors
    • Temperature Sensors
    • Leak Detectors
    • Monitoring Life Signs
    • Safe Use of Nontoxic Fumigants
  • Chapter 5: Anoxia Treatment in Barrier-Film Bags
    • General Procedures
    • Conservators' Experience
    • Comments
  • Chapter 6: Anoxia Treatment in a Dynamic Mode
    • Treatment in Small Pouches
    • Treatment in Constructed Containments
      • Objects at the J. Paul Getty Museum
      • Back Seat Dodge '38
      • The Spanish Piano
  • Flexible Chambers
    • The Getty Barrier-Film Tent
    • The Small Rentokil Bubble
    • The Large Rentokil Bubble
  • Rigid Chambers
    • Homemade Containers
    • Vacufume Chambers
  • Effectiveness of Carbon Dioxide versus Nitrogen
  • Carbon Dioxide Fumigation Requirements
  • Treatment Experience in the United States
    • Old Sturbridge Village
    • The Winterthur Museum
    • Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities
    • The Oakland Museum
    • The Smithsonian Institution
  • Treatment Experience in Canada
    • The National Museum of Science and Technology
    • The Canadian Museum of Civilization
  • Treatment Experience in Germany

About the Authors

Charles Selwitz joined the Gulf Research and Development Company in Harmarville, Pennsylvania, where he was director of synthetic chemistry until 1982. He is now an independent consultant but works primarily for the Getty Conservation Institute in such diverse areas as the preservation of earthen architecture by backfilling, the use of polymers for stone preservation, the stabilization of historic adobe with chemical consolidants, and the control of insect pests in museums by use of modified atmospheres.

Shin Maekawa is senior scientist in the Scientific Program at the Getty Conservation Institute, where he coordinates nitrogen anoxia projects. His research areas include nitrogen environments for long-term storage and display of artifacts, disinfestation of museum object, performance evaluation and design of storage and display cases, and monitoring and control of the environments and microenvironments of artifacts. He is a registered professional engineer (P.E. Mechanical) in the state of California.

Press Reviews and Awards

  • “A very useful tool for understanding an important and rapidly evolving approach to pest management.” —Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
  • “Case studies are extremely useful.” —Conservation News