Blue Bell’s Custom Pest Solutions preserves historical artifacts from moth damage

Betsy Ross as portrayed by Historic Philadelphia Inc’s Jennifer Gray with Tom Silvestrini at the Betsy Ross House.

WHITPAIN >> Thanks to the intervention of a local pest control company, the historical artifacts at a Philadelphia institution are once again safe from the ravages of a certain nocturnal insect.

Commonly known as webbing clothes moths, the insects were posing a threat to the fabric, as it were, of The Betsy Ross House, a landmark in Philadelphia said to be the site where seamstress and upholsterer Betsy Ross lived when she created the first American Flag.

“There was a customer in Blue Bell that we did some work for and it turned out that she was very happy with the job and that she’s a Betsy Ross actress at the Betsy Ross House,” noted Thomas Silvestrini, president of Custom Pest Solutions in Blue Bell, who later learned that the Betsy Ross House folks were being bugged by moths.

“She had mentioned during our conversation that the Betsy Ross House was experiencing a webbing clothes moth issue in the building and around the historical artifacts, and that my services could be beneficial to them.”

Confident that his company, which is also owned and operated by his wife Shari Silvestrini, and his more than 40 years of experience battling pests could stave off moth damage to the priceless Betsy Ross collection of fabrics and furniture, Silvestrini gave the actress his card and informational brochure.

“It wasn’t until a year later that I received a call from Kim Staub, Artifacts Collections Manager of the Betsy Ross House,” Silvestrini noted. “I scheduled an appointment for an inspection and evaluation of their situation. During my inspection, I was informed that Kim Staub was privately handling the moth issue (with) control measures that were limited to the freezing of moth infested items, inspecting the infested artifacts under magnification and physically removing clusters of moth eggs found. Although this process was tedious and time consuming, it helped in reducing the population of moths, but the low level lingering issue was problematic.”

At that point, in order to create an effective program, Silvestrini realized he had to have an understanding of how long visitors and actors occupied the building on any given day so that a safe approach for treatment of the moths could be developed, he said.

“There were concerns expressed that whatever approach was taken, it could not affect the integrity of the artifacts and must be safe for the employees and guests,” Silvestrini added.

The program to get rid of the moths that he ultimately designed was one he had used successfully at a high-end condominium building in Rittenhouse Square, where residents can be frequently “under siege” by moths who have tagged along during their world travels to come home and feed on their $1,000 suits, he allowed.

“This program consisted of the use of a Gentrol Point Source (an insect growth regulator, a biorational insecticide), which inhibits reproduction and adult emergence of moths,” Silvestrini explained. “This, in conjunction with the use of a biological webbing clothes moth monitor program would be a safe, logical and cost effective approach and would establish a baseline of infestation.”

Silvestrini had reached out to two companies that he’d done business with — Wellmark International, the manufacturer of Gentrol Point Source, and Insects Limited, which makes Webbing Clothes Moth Biological Monitors.

“Both were eager to be involved with this project and offered to donate their prospective products, and my company donated the pest control service,” he said, adding that with the collaboration of the three companies, the moths were quickly on the road to extinction.

“The other two companies were extremely gracious. There was never any talk of money or anything like that. Everyone just wanted to do their part. We all donated our products and service, we initiated a plan and its working out very well. The product we used can be put in a room and, when it evaporates, as the moths fly around it and absorb the product, it interrupts the mating process. We monitor the activity with a monitor manufactured by Insects Limited, which lets us look for month to month snapshots in time to see if we’re getting ahead of (the problem.)”

Meanwhile, the Betsy Ross House staff members are on guard as well, Silvestrini said.

“They work there every day, so they’re paying attention to where they see activity. So it’s kind of a joint effort between Welmark, Insects Limited and my company, and the person in charge of the Betsy Ross collection,” he noted. “Now that we have a base line of moth activity established, it will ebb and flow and we can tell when we need to increase what we’re doing.”

The data from the monitors will be continuously documented and studied for trends in activity, Silvestrini said.

“It was a pleasure to be offered the opportunity to help preserve some our nations most treasured artifacts,” he added.

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