For many years, testing of materials that will be in proximity of museum objects has been pontificated by the conservation community. Are the tests sufficient? Will testing ensure a safe microclimate for collections? When the Getty Center Museum was being designed, testing of every material that would be used in the galleries and cases was budgeted. The Museum Research Laboratory of the Getty Conservation Institute tested over 800 materials from paints, fabrics, plastics, papers, adhesives, etc. Many failed and many passed. This testing stage was frustrating to the designers. Testing of the completed galleries, cases and storage cabinets confirmed that testing of materials was beneficial.
There were a few interesting situations:
Some materials passed the pre-screening, but when the actual batch arrived it failed. E.g., a fabric that had been approved based on initial testing was found to have formaldehyde in the batch sent for installation. The Head Conservator washed the bolt of fabric and the material passed the test. All subsequent orders were sent pre-washed to remove formaldehyde added to reduce creasing in transportation. This demonstrates the preliminarily screening based on manufacturers samples is important, but testing of the final product is necessary as well. Additionally, testing of one batch by one laboratory, does not mean that all batch received will be satisfactory.
The testing of individual products for harmful gases does not guarantee that the final case or cabinet will be free from potentially damaging pollutants either. There may be synergistic effects. Materials used to construct display cases were individually tested. The final product had an "odd" odor according to the conservator. The air quality of the case was sampled and formaldehyde was detected. The levels were below the detection limits of the chromatropic acid test used on the individual material, 50 µgm-3. While 50 µgm-3 is considered low, for very sensitive materials it could be a problem.
Total VOCs were tracked to evaluate the need for "bake-out" or time to allow the building to off-gas. It was found that as soon as construction ceased, the VOC levels dropped significant and the collections could be moved in without concern. This was because of the selection of the materials and the quality of the HVAC system.
The air quality with respect to infiltration of outdoor-generated pollutants was also monitored. The HVAC systems provide excellent filtration of gaseous and particle pollution. One of the primary factors is high air exchange rates to continuous filter the air. More information of the air quality monitoring of the Getty Center Museum will be published at a later data.
The Getty Conservation Institute will provide a copy of the list of materials it has tested. Please write Dr. David Scott, Getty Conservation Institute, 1200 Getty Center Drive Suite 700, Los Angeles, CA 90049-1864 USA. Fax (+ (1)) 310 440-7784.
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© May 11th, 2000