Nitrogen treatment for collections

Mar 5, 2018

Protect what you collect

Historic New England offers a controlled atmosphere treatment service as a safe and effective method for protecting museum and private collections from pest infestations. We are the only museum offering this treatment to clients in the region.

The service is located at our collections storage and conservation facility in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

The Bubble

Museums are continually protecting their collections from pest infestations. Knowing the signs and patterns of an infestation is important: the resultant damage varies not only from species to species but within species. Live insects, cast-skins (moults), frass/droppings, and holes or tunnels in objects are some obvious signs of pest activity. Varied carpet beetles, webbing and case-making clothes moths, and wood-boring pests are some of the most common and most destructive. Once an object is infested, it’s important that it undergo some form of treatment. Historically, people would battle pests with paradichlorobenzene, DDT, and hydrogen cyanide. The use of these types of chemicals and fumigants today are now banned or discontinued because of their toxicity and associations with human health hazards. Modern treatment methods have become more sophisticated, practical, and safer.

One such method is using nitrogen gas in an impermeable, plastic bubble, known as a modified or controlled atmosphere treatment. Nitrogen gas is used to displace the oxygen in the bubble to a percentage below 1% low enough to kill all stages of the insect life-cycle: adults, larvae, pupae, and eggs. Unlike alternative methods of treatment like freezing, the use of nitrogen is safe for all types of museum objects because it does not expose them to extreme changes in temperature and relative humidity. The residual air still contains its water vapor; thus, one third of the original humidity is maintained. Historic New England uses an overhead heating system and a fan-driven humidification system to help monitor the environment. We have been safely performing controlled atmosphere treatments since 1992 with great success. Additionally, treated objects can be immediately handled and returned. Once objects have been put through treatment, they may need to be cleaned and inspected for any future pest activity.

For more information on identifying pests, treatment options and integrated pest managements practices visit http://museumpests.net.

Rent the Bubble

In addition to its own needs, Historic New England offers this treatment service at cost to other museums, institutions, and individual private clients. The treatment time is three weeks. Delivery and pick up must be arranged by the client.

Guideline for Pricing

The cost for treatment is based primarily on size or volume of objects, in relation to the size of the bubble. The bubble is approximately 1,000 ft³ with inside dimensions of roughly 11’ L x 11’ W x 8’ H. Materials, time, and cost of operation also factor into the cost of treatment.

To rent the bubble, contact Adam Osgood, collections technician, at 617-994-6637 or [email protected].