A lost treasure from New York's attic
November 5, 2004 2:59 PM   Subscribe

A long-lost treasure too toxic to touch: Construction at New York City's Harlem Community Justice Center recently revealed a room piled high with records documenting the building's former life as an early 20th century prison. They offer a peek into the street life of ca. 1900 NYC and scholars are already interested - there's only one problem: the room also contains decades worth of toxic pigeon droppings. (NY Times - registration required). Photos (click on the "records rescue" link at the bottom) of the room are available at the great correctionhistory.org which also offers histories and photos of other out-of-the-way corners of NYC like the Hart Island Potter's Field.
posted by ryanshepard (9 comments total)
Can someone explain why these are "too toxic to touch"? Gross, yes. Toxic? There's something I obviously don't know.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:20 PM on November 5, 2004

Histoplasmosis, among other respiratory ailments can be spread via pigeon droppigs. Shit, in general, harbors all sorts of bacteria and fungus many of which are toxic.
posted by Grod at 3:43 PM on November 5, 2004

Mainly fungal diseases [PDF] though they're also "known to harbor a variety of diseases and parasites possibly including e-coli.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 3:44 PM on November 5, 2004

Thanks. That's what I suspected, but I would've thought that a pathogen would be not-too-hard to get rid off. I mean, relative to some toxin.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:46 PM on November 5, 2004

etheral: guess this explains a lot
posted by elpapacito at 3:47 PM on November 5, 2004

Heat the whole thing up, oven-cleaner style. It'll be sterile, at least.
posted by davebug at 4:19 PM on November 5, 2004

Yeah, there are ways you can kill pathogens, but you actually have to get rid of toxic compounds. All I've seen are that pigeon droppings harbor lots of pathogens. So you'd think they could use some serious antiseptics or something and that'd be good enough. It wouldn't clean the shit up, but it'd kill the bugs. Well, virii can be very hard to kill. And heating it up in an oven, even in the absence of oxygen, is probably not very healthy for old documents. :)
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:38 PM on November 5, 2004

What's with all the New York postings today?

Anyway, maybe it's toxic because what they eat around here. I've seen my share of deformed pigeons stumbling around Tomkins Square...

But there's all kinds of buried past in this gothic place

posted by reality at 8:57 PM on November 5, 2004

About the droppings:

Something I didn't see mentioned in elpapacito's link is that bird urine, unlike that of most mammals, contains a lot of ammonia (birds' preferred disposal method of extra nitrogen from digested proteins). This ammonia, when freed, gets up into the air and makes it impossible to enter caves or other closed areas high in droppings unless one is wearing a respirator.
posted by rxrfrx at 1:57 PM on November 6, 2004

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