Museums all across the globe are a representation of different cultures and the appreciation of their beauty among other things. What if I told you that decades from now, most museums might not be having much to display? While this might sound like an exaggeration, without affirmative action, there is a big possibility of museum artifacts being destroyed thanks to the high levels of indoor pollutants.
Moreover, artifacts and exhibits are not the only things affected by poor air quality in museums
. The occupants too,are susceptible to getting infections (among other things).
This brings us to the matter at hand, what is the level of pollution in museums, and most importantly, how can we remedy this problem in order to save both the people and our artifacts?
How Bad Is Pollution In Museums And What Are Its Effects?
Museums like most indoor spaces are notorious for common pollutants such as dust, dirt and mold. Other pollutants like Ozone, formaldehyde, vanish and nitrogen oxides are common due to the museum's work environment.
Particulates like dust are abrasive and can cause irreparable damage when they get in contact with the exhibits.
While short term exposure to dust may not be lethal, it causes eye, nose, throat as well as skin irritation. Long term exposure to dust can also lead to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Pollution from dust often comes from outside or brought by museum visitors.
Mold on the other hand forms in moist areas such as ill-kept bathrooms and ventilation.Since mold produces spores, its effect on artifacts and humans are similar to that of dust.
Gaseous pollutants like Ozone and Nitrogen Oxides perhaps play the biggest role in the degradation of artifacts. Ozone, which is highly reactive readily oxidizes paintings causing gradual degradation. It is also quite harmful to human health as it results in respiratory complications. Nitrogen Oxides, on the other hand, destroy artifacts by acidifying them.
While formaldehyde pollution is not common in all museums, new furniture and paint frames play a big role in emitting formaldehyde. Cleaning agents such as chlorine and aerosol sprays contain harmful chemicals which often leads to health complications upon constant unprotected exposures. That is also the reason why some museums have standalone whole house air purifiers mounted inside
. We also can't overlook the effects of VOCs emitted by vanishes and paint on walls and furniture. These cause eye and throat irritation and can be a threat to air filtration experts when mishandled.
The significance of air quality in museums
While most museums are taking measures to protect artefacts from obvious damaging agents such as UV rays, protection from air pollutants seems to be highly neglected. One might argue that most museum exhibits are stored in cases hence protected from toxins and air pollutants.
True, encasing exhibits can mitigate the effects of air pollutants. However, this is not a bulletproof remedy as contaminants eventually accumulate on casings and gradually find their way to exhibits.
This calls for an offensive approach toward pollutants that encompasses elimination. Furthermore, the fragile nature of museum exhibits be it books, paintings or sculptures makes them vulnerable to damages by said pollutants. This can be in the form of abrasions, reactions and sometimes a combination of the two.
Exhibits aside, pollutants pose a huge health risk to people especially workers as they spend long hours in the museum premises.
Gases such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide often trigger asthma attacks which can be fatal.
Ozone, particulates and formaldehyde cause irritation which ranges from mild to severe depending on the level and length of exposure.
Combating Air Pollution in Museums
It is clear that air pollution poses a significant risk to both museum exhibits
as well as its occupants. So how can we control pollution in museums? This can be achieved by stopping the pollution from the source as well as employing filtration methods.
Source control basically involves nipping air pollution in the bud by preventing pollutants from getting into the museum as well as accumulating over time. This is most effective at controlling particulates such as dust and mold.
Dust and mold should be eliminated regularly as soon as they are detected. Proper ventilation is also important in eliminating dust pollution whereas mold can be prevented by ensuring wet areas the museum are quickly spotted and taken care of.
Pollution from paint and formaldehyde can be controlled by being vigilant during application. This also involves using methods that are less harmful and produce little to no aerosols.
Filtration methods are very effective in eliminating all types of pollutants ranging from particulates to complex gaseous pollutants like ozone.
However, such methods ought to be applied cautiously to avoid interference with exhibits. This can be achieved by consulting air filtration experts who will conduct necessary investigations to determine the best filtration methods depending on exhibits stored.
When all is said and done, the importance of maintaining quality air within museums cannot be stressed enough. By managing air quality, we will be able to better preserve exhibits as well as the health of museum visitors and workers.