Community Query: Pesticide Contamination in Collections in the 1970s

Below is a query from Alice B. Kehoe (University of Milwakwke) and Marshall J. Becker (West Chester University) about pesticide contamination in collections in the 1970s.
We are interested in information about what pesticides were used with collections, and in what museums, prior to around the 1970s––that is, before Carson’s Silent Spring raised awareness of their dangers. Marshall remembers becoming sick from arsenic in the early 1960s while working in collections of hides treated with it, and finding out he also had lead poisoning; Alice remembers the strong odor of mothballs in the corridors of the Anthropology Department in the American Museum of Natural History, when a student aide there in the mid-1950s. Clark Wissler suffered a “mysterious” chronic illness during many of the years he was in that department (1905-1942), the illness mysteriously relieved in 1928. Museum Director Henry Fairfield Osborn had Wissler consult his own physician, but apparently to no avail. We inquired from the AMNH archives department about what pesticides were used before and after 1928, but the archivist replied that they had no record about pesticides.

—Alice B. Kehoe ( and Marshall J. Becker (