When everything is present: Recovery of objects from 9-11-01

Linda Edquist, Kathryn Makos, and James Oakley

Abstract

The Smithsonian Institution’s National Postal Museum and National Museum of American History were centrally involved with the recovery of objects of historic interest from the 2001 World Trade Center disaster site, Pentagon and Shanksville crash site. Environmental studies conducted on behalf of regulatory agencies identified numerous hazardous materials in the settled debris created from the collapse and subsequent fires of the WTC. Recovered objects slated for public display, loans or accession by the Smithsonian first underwent surface contamination identification, and decontamination by methods adapted from abatement industry standard practices. Evaluation of decontamination methods by statistical analysis of clearance samples proven to be effective in reducing available airborne concentrations of asbestos fibers (as the benchmark particulate contaminant) to below recognized clearance standards. Collections decontamination methods were developed by a team of experienced industrial hygienists, collections managers and conservators to satisfy the unique handling requirements of collections. Personal protective equipment and safe work practices were implemented in accordance with regulatory requirements and abatement industry best practices as well as measures necessitated by the unique nature of collecting for museums. The work completed on the objects collected and donated from the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Shanksville was a joint effort of museum curators, collection specialists, conservators and importantly an industrial hygienist at the Smithsonian to create a safe working environment for the staff handling these pieces now and in the future.

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