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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Environmental Health Note/ Poisoned Artifacts

Air Date: Week of

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Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey reports on pesticide residues found on Native American ceremonial items that have been repatriated to tribes.


CURWOOD: Coming up, keeping nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists. First, this Environmental Health Note from Diane Toomey.

[MUSIC: Health Note Theme]

DIANE TOOMEY: Thanks to a 1990 repatriation law, Native American tribes can now reclaim museum items that rightfully belong to them. But it turns out these objects might present a health hazard. Museums have routinely used chemicals to protect their collections from pest damage. In the past, these pesticides have included everything from arsenic and mercury salts to DDT.

Researchers recently examined some Native American artifacts for these residues. The items in the study included ceremonial eagle feathers, a deer hoof necklace and leather headbands, all property of the Hupa Tribe of northern California.

The artifacts were taken from the Hupa in 1904, and eventually made their way to Harvard's Peabody Museum. When a Hupa representative retrieved the objects a few years ago, Peabody officials told him to wear gloves and a mask when handling them. That warning prompted him to obtain a chemical analysis.

Researchers took a number of samples from 17 items, and found that mercury, DDT, and naphthalene, the main ingredient in mothballs, showed up in many of them. But the actual risk posed by handling repatriated items is unknown since, historically, museums kept poor records on pesticide use. And studies such as this one are rare. That's this week's health update. I'm Diane Toomey.

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Lisa Kane “Mother Nature’s Pace” Surroundings - www.lisakane.com]



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