Fluid Preservation

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This content is excerpted from Preventive Conservation: Collection Storage (2019), Elkin and Norris, eds.

Chapter 23: Storage in Fluid Preservatives

John E. Simmons, Museologica, Bellefonte, PA, and Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum and Art Gallery, The Pennsylvania State University, State College, PA

Fluid preservatives include alcohols, aldehydes, and other liquids used for long-term preservation of organic specimens and some inorganic objects. Fixatives are chemicals that prevent autolysis and stabilize tissue structure; preservatives are chemicals that prevent long-term postmortem changes. Old preservative solutions may contain include acids, arsenic, mercuric chloride, lead, and various salts. Most fluid-preserved specimens are housed in glass, plastic, or steel containers, with fluid-resistant labels and tags. Fluid-preserved specimens require a stable, cool storage environment with protection from visible light and UV radiation. Fluid-preserved specimens are hygroscopic and sensitive to dehydration. Transfer between fluids should be done in concentration steps to minimize damage. Shelving should be non-corrosive with restraining devices to prevent container movement. Personal protective equipment for handling fluid-preserved specimens includes lab coats, neoprene gloves, safety glasses, and splash goggles. Fluid-preserved specimens should not be allowed to dehydrate while being handled. Collections should be monitored for closure integrity, preservative loss or changes in fluid concentration or fluid quality, and deterioration of specimen quality.


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