held at :
17-18 June 1998


The idea for hosting a meeting dedicated to the detection and mitigation of carbonyl pollutants, (acetic acid, formic acid and formaldehyde vapours ) evolved during a collaborative research project between myself, Agnes Brokerhof, Cecily Grzywacz and Simon Watts. We were aware that many museums and institutes are currently concerned with carbonyl pollution-induced deterioration and perform air sampling and/or materials testing experiments. However, the results of such studies are not often published in primary journals. The information, therefore, is not readily available to the conservation community as a whole. It is also impossible to determine the current state of carbonyl-pollution research without access to the results of these recent studies.

It is well appreciated that the challenges faced by conservation scientists and curators in tackling indoor carbonyl-pollution issues are substantial, and at this stage cooperation between the various institutes, museums, and universities currently involved in pollution research, is thought to be imperative if the problems are to be overcome. Furthermore, it is important to foster the interdiscipinary nature of conservation research and we believe that progress can only be made through collaboration of scientists, conservators and curators who can combine a great range of skills and expertise. What is the point of designing and developing sophisticated and complex method of analyses that cannot be implemented in practice ??

So the fundamental aims of the meeting can be summarised as follows; it was hoped that previous research results could be collated and shared, future research projects would become clearer, collaborations (old and new) would be fostered, and a good framework to ensure the safe storage and display of items important to our cultural heritage be established. It would be presumptuous to assume that we achieved all of these objectives, however the general consensus of opinion was that the meeting was worthwhile, generated a lot of useful discussions and was an ideal start to international collaborative carbonyl-pollution research.

Equally important was to ensure that the meeting was enjoyable, relaxed and fun. Therefore, I would like to thank the Lord Provost of Glasgow and the Principal of The University of Strathclyde for supporting the meeting and providing us with two very splendid evening receptions in the City Chambers and Collins Gallery, respectively. I was also encouraged to discover that the meeting created some media attention. Newpaper and radio articles describing problems faced by the conservation community can only be good for our profession which, quite rightly, deserves recognition (and more funding!!).

Finally a few words of thanks. First and foremost, thanks to the attendees, all of whom greeted the meeting with an enthusiastic, friendly and sociable manner. This document, containing the presentation abstracts and details of the discussion sessions, was prepared in the hope that it would serve to disemminate information to those parties interested in carbonyl pollution but who were unable to attend the meeting. Without permission from all the speakers, and help from the core working group (Agnes Brokerhof, Cecily Grzywacz, Simon Watts, Brian Cooksey and Frank Ligterink) the meeting, or prepartion of this document, would not have taken place, and I would like to extend my thanks to all of them. I would also like to take this opportunity to offer all our thanks to those who supported the meeting financially; The University of Strathclyde, The Getty Conservation Institute, The Conservation Bureau of Historic Scotland and Dionex UK. The conference, lunches and evening receptions were all free of charge and without financial backing from the aforementioned parties it is unlikely that the meeting would have taken place. Finally I wish to acknowledge the Natural Environment Research Council who funded my post-doctoral positon at the University of Strathclyde and the principal grant holders; Prof. David Littlejohn and Dr. Norman Tennent.

Lorraine Gibson


Since the first published report of carbonyl pollution-induced corrosion on shells in 1899, a wide range of diverse, complex corrosion products have been observed on numerous metal and calcareous artefacts. The principal organic carbonyl pollutants that attack the objects, (acetic acid, formic acid and formaldehyde), emanate from the materials used to construct wooden (or wood product based) storage and display cabinets. In order to prevent further destruction of susceptible artefacts stored or displayed in contaminated areas, preventative conservation strategies must be implemented.

The first step is to assess all suspect cabinets to determine if there are potentially damaging acidic pollutants in the object's micro-environment. Based on this survey/evaluation, a more rigorous analytical test can be conducted to identify and quantify the vapours present. Depending on the results, the probability of artefact damage can be assessed. If pollutant vapour phase concentrations are deemed to be problematic, mitigation procedures should be implemented in order to reduce, or eliminate, the organic carbonyl pollutants from the object's micro- environment. Although this appears to be a simple task, quantification of carbonyl pollutants in museums is still in its developmental stage. A number of qualitative and quantitative sampling techniques have been used to 1) assess the acidity of environments surrounding susceptible items, 2) determine the suitability of construction materials for museum use and 3) assess the efficacy of mitigation procedures. However, few interlaboratory comparisons have been undertaken to ensure that the results obtained from the different methods currently in use are in good agreement. Until these sampling methods can be implemented in the museum environment with confidence, it is difficult to identify potentially dangerous pollutant concentrations in storage or display areas and assess relative risks. Furthermore, the correlation between pollutant concentration and artefact damage is not yet fully understood. A large number of synergystic factors are known to contribute to the deterioration processes including; relative humidity, temperature, the presence of other acidic pollutants, pollutants concentrations, exposure time, and the conservation, storage and general history of the artefact. In addition, different materials will have different sensitivities to specific pollutants. Moreover, the pollution dose (i.e. concentration multiplied by time) must also be addressed. In order to protect susceptible collections and determine acceptable pollution levels, a better understanding of the relationship between pollutant concentration, or pollutant dose, and artefact damage is required.

To encourage the exchange of knowledge and experience between museums, institutes and Universities currently involved in carbonyl pollution air monitoring, a two-day international conference on 'Indoor Pollution : Detection and Mitigation of Carbonyls' was organised by Dr. Lorraine Gibson (then, at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow). The conference, sponsored by The University of Strathclyde, The Conservation Bureau of Historic Scotland, Dionex UK and The Getty Conservation Institute, brought together 30 delegates from the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark, the US and Canada. The aims, presentation abstracts and brief conclusions of the meeting are described herein.


The aims of the meeting were to discuss:

The ultimate aim is to provide conservators and museum professionals with standard methods of analysis that are simple to use, easy to implement, economical and fully quantitative, and to provide appropriate means for preventive conservation. This will include advice on i) mitigation methodologies and ii) interpretation of the qualitative and quantitative pollutant data with respect to the artefact's risk.



To better understand the relationship between pollutant concentration and artefact damage, a database is to be constructed to collate data from previous, and future, sampling experiments. It will contain information from 1) laboratory simulation experiments and 2) phenomenological research. Project participants include the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI), the University of Strathclyde (UoS), University of Oxford-Brookes (UoOB), University of East Anglia (UoEA), Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage (NICH), The National Museums of Scotland (NMS), The British Museum (BM), The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), The Museum of London (MoL), the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), and the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI).


One of the questions most asked by museums seeking advice is which materials are safe to use for the construction of storage and display facilities. Various institutes and museums have their own recommended lists of materials and test results, however, there is no generally accessible list. A second database will be constructed and used to collate the information from a number of participating institutes and museums including; the Building Research Establishment (BRE), BM, CCI, GCI, NICH, ROM, MoL, NMS and V&A. The proposed database will include post-1995 data and future test results for materials that have been deemed 'safe' for short-term and long-term use in proximity to artefacts.


Several researchers have agreed to develop standard operating protocols for acid and aldehyde vapour testing in museums. This will take the form of simulated and field interlaboratory comparisons to ensure that the results obtained from the different sampling methods currently available are in good agreement. Once validated, standard operating protocols will be devised and published for general use.


The conference participants have agreed to form a working group of conservators and scientists with shared interests. The core group leading the research, are : A Brokerhof (NICH), B Cooksey (UoS), L Gibson (NICH), C Grzywacz (GCI), F Ligterink (NICH) and S Watts (UoOB). The Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage has offered to host the next meeting in Amsterdam. It is currently planned to prcceed the ICOM-CC '99 triennial meeting in Lyon, France. Information will follow in due course.

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Index of presentations at IAP 1998 meeting

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