Mercury used to be part of the preservation technique in museums, as a bug killer. This makes analyzing museum specimens for environmental change difficult (pre- and post-industrial; regional ecological change in water, temperature, etc over time using stable nuclides; etc.) There was an interesting study on Berlin museum specimens (feathers) for mercury pollution in the urban environments some 20 years ago. [References in deep storage, I’m afraid. And NIH, DOE, and NSF have never been interested in funding chemical ecology modelling of long-term human environmental change made possible via stable nuclides.] I have another reference I will find about the hazards of handling museum specimens which have been curated in the outmoded manner for pest control and not for environmental heritage.
CDC: Antiques Can Pose Mercury Hazard from the Miami Herald (Registration Required)
ALBANY, N.Y. — Careful with that antique clock. It could pose a mercury hazard. The silvery, skittering, and toxic liquid can be found in some antiques. Mirrors can be backed with mercury and tin; Clock pendulums might be weighted with embedded vials of mercury; and barometers, thermometers and lamps may have mercury in their bases for ballast.
The problem is that mercury in old items can leak, particularly as seals age or when the items are moved, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ask Ann Smith, whose heirloom clock’s pendulum leaked mercury onto the carpet of her gift store in rural Delhi, N.Y., as a cleaner moved it. An attempt to vacuum the tiny silver balls off the carpet only made things worse, requiring a hazardous materials team to be dispatched to Parker House Gifts and Accessories last summer.