Air quality in museums is a major concern because of the role that pollutants can play in the deterioration of works of art indoors—and within indoor microenvironments such as display cases and storage cabinets. Microclimates with inferior air quality (due to infiltration of outdoor-generated pollutants or indoor-generated pollutants) are often treated by installing an adsorbent material inside the display case or storage cabinet.

In the late 1980s, the GCI conducted research evaluating common adsorbents used in conservation, including activated carbon, potassium permanganate, and silica gel. This research did not point to an optimum adsorbent material. Each material had drawbacks and advantages. Since that time, new adsorbents have been developed and marketed, including zeolites, zinc oxide, calcium oxides, calcium carbonates, and adsorbents impregnated with acid neutralizing hydroxides. (Research at the University of Glasgow is looking at catalytic materials to remove hydrogen sulfide.)

The fundamental questions regarding adsorbents—such as which material should be used for which gaseous pollutants, how much sorbent per enclosure volume is necessary, and what is the length of time that each adsorbent is effective—have not been systemically addressed. Recognizing the importance of answering these questions, the GCI has developed a research project to evaluate the performance of pollutant adsorbents.

This new project will test commercially available adsorbents to determine their capacity for individual pollutants and their effectiveness in removing the gas from a microenvironment. Studies will include monitoring spent adsorbents for release of the gases (i.e., if the adsorbent has adsorbed all of the pollutant that it can, will it gradually release the potentially damaging gas back into the environment?).

The project, now in the design phase, will begin testing in early 2001. For further information, please contact James Druzik or Cecily Grzywacz at the GCI.