Monitoring pollutant gases in museum microclimates: a relevant preventive conservation strategy




Indoor air quality, Collections, Risk prevention, Volatile organic compounds, Preventive conservation


Exposure to an atmosphere rich in volatile pollutants can endanger collections in museums, galleries, libraries or archives. Monitoring volatile pollutants in museum microclimates remains an unusual practice in most institutions. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be released by many sources, including the artefacts’ materials themselves. The presence of pollutants in an enclosed space with poor ventilation, adding to high temperature and relative humidity levels or significant fluctuations, may increase the risk of damage for the more susceptible materials. The tendency observed in museums to enclose artefacts in vitrines or boxes may contribute to the formation of microclimates with high VOCs concentration. Based on the studies developed in the last decades, this work intends to draw attention to the risks associated with gaseous pollutants in museum environment and outline some recommendations that encourage cultural heritage institutions to implement a pollutant monitoring plan associated with risk prevention.


Download data is not yet available.


[1] Hatchfield, P., Pollutants in the museum environment. Practical strategies for problem solving in design, exhibition and storage, Archetype Publications Ltd, London (2002).

[2] European Environment Agency, Air quality in Europe – 2018 report EEA Technical Report, European Environment Agency, Copenhagen (2018),

[3] Spiegel, E., ‘MEMORI Survey Report: The current situation and management of indoor air quality (IAQ) in European collections’, Köln (2011), (acesso em 2021-04-27).

[4] Tétreault, J., ‘Standards for levels of pollutants in museums Part.II’, in Indoor Air Pollution: Detection and Prevention, Presentation Abstracts and Additional Notes, eds. A. W. Brokerhof & L. Gibson, Instituut Collectie Nederland, Amsterdam (1999), (acesso em 2021-04-27).

[5] Barbosa, K.; Moreira, A. R., ‘Investigação sobre gases poluentes em ambientes museológicos’, in The International Seminar on Conservation of Modern Bronzes, MAC – USP, São Paulo (2012), (acesso em 2021-04-27).

[6] Lee, L. R.; Thickett, D., ‘Selection of Materials for the Storage and Display of Museum Objects’, in Preventive Conservation in Museums, ed. C. Caple, Routledge, New York (2011) 239-257.

[7] Thomson, G., The Museum Environment, 2nd ed., Routledge, New York (1994).

[8] Grzywacz, C. M., Monitoring for Gaseous Pollutants in Museum Environments, Tools for conservation, Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles (2006),

[9] Tétreault, J., Airborne Pollutants in Museums, Galleries and Archives: Risk Assessment, Control Strategies and Preservation Management, Canadian Conservation Institute, Otawa (2003).

[10] Grzywacz, C. M.; Maybee, P.; Tétreault, J., ‘Museums, galleries, archives, and libraries‘, in ASHRAE handbook: Heating, Ventilating, and Air-Conditioning applications, SI Edition, American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, INC., Atlanta (2011).

[11] Holden, A., ‘The AMECP project: prevention is better than cure’, Conservation Journal - Victoria and Albert Museum (1992), (acesso em 2021-04-27).

[12] Odlyha, M.; Boon, J. J.; van den Brink, O.; Bacci, M., ‘Environmental Research for Art Conservation (ERA)’, Journal of Thermal Analysis 49(3) (1997) 1571-1584.

[13] AA.VV., ‘Microclimate indoor monitoring: damage assessment for cultural heritage preservation’, in 14th triennial meeting, The Hague, 12-16 September 2005: preprints Vol. II, Verger, ICOM-CC, The Hague (2005) 670-676, (acesso em 2021-04-27).

[14] Grøntoft, T., ‘Derivation of a model for the calculation of impact loads of air pollutants to paintings in microclimate frames’, e-Preservation Science 7 (2010) 132-140, (acesso em 2021-04-27).

[15] AA.VV., ‘Sensor system for detection of harmful environments for pipe organs (SENSORGAN)’, E-Preservation Science 7 (2010) 116-125, (acesso em 2021-04-27).

[16] Dahlin, E., ‘PROPAINT-Improved Protection of Paintings during Exhibition, Storage and Transit: Final Activity Report’, Norwegian Institute for Air Research, EU FP6 Supported Research Project: SSPI-044254 (2010) 147.

[17] Prosek, T.; Kouril, M.; Dubus, M.; Taube, M.; Hubert, V.; Scheffel, B.; Degres, Y.; Jouannic, M.; Thierry, D., ‘Real-time monitoring of indoor air corrosivity in cultural heritage institutions with metallic electrical resistance sensors’, Studies in Conservation 58(2) (2013) 117-128,

[18] Odlyha, M.; Bozec, L.; Dahlin, E.; Grøntoft, T.; Chelazzi, D.; Baglioni, P.; Bonaduce, M.; Comibini, P.; Marsen, R., Scharff, M.; Hackney, S.; Thickett, D., ‘Memori Project: Evaluation of Damage to Exposed Organic-Based Heritage Materials and Nanoforart: Evaluation of Nanoparticle-Based Conservation Treatment’, International Journal of Heritage in the Digital Era 1(1_suppl) (2012) 319-324,

[19] Saunders, D., ‘Pollution and the National Gallery’, National Gallery Technical Bulletin 21 (2000) 77-94, (acesso em 2021-04-27).

[20] Tétreault, J., ‘Agent of Deterioration: Pollutants’, Canadian Conservation Institute, Canada (2008), (acesso em 2021-04-27).

[21] World Health Organization, ‘Air Quality Guidelines for Europe’, WHO Regional Publications, Copenhagen (2000).

[22] World Health Organization, ‘Formaldehyde’, in Air Quality Guidelines, 2ªed., WHO Regional Office for Europe, Copenhagen (2001) 396-404.

[23] World Health Organization, ‘WHO guidelines for indoor air quality: selected pollutants’, WHO Regional Office for Europe, Copenhagen (2010).

[24] World Health Organization, ‘Air quality guidelines for particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. Global update 2005’, WHO Regional Office for Europe, Copenhagen (2005).

[25] World Health Organization, ‘Development of WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality’, WHO Regional Office for Europe, Bonn (2006) 1-27, (acesso em 2021-04-27).

[26] ‘Directiva 2008/50/CE do Parlamento Europeu e do Conselho, de 21 de Maio de 2008’, Jornal Oficial da União Europeia L 152 (2008) 44.

[27] Tidblad, J.; Kreislová, K.; Faller, M.; de la Fuente, D.; Yates, T.; Verney-Carron, A.; Grontoft, T.; Gordon, A.; Hans, U., ‘ICP materials trends in corrosion, soiling and air pollution (1987-2014)’, Materials 10(8) (2017) 1-23,

[28] Hackney, S., ‘Colour measurement of acid-detector strips for the quantification of volatile organic acids in storage conditions’, Studies in Conservation 61(sup1) (2016) 55-69,

[29] Canosa, E.; Norrehed, S., ‘Strategies for pollutant monitoring in museum environments’, Swedish National Heritage Board, June (2019) 65,

[30] González-Martín, J.; Kraakman, N.; Pérez, C.; Lebrero, R.; Muñoz, R., ‘A State-of-the-Art Review on Indoor Air Pollution and Strategies for Indoor Air Pollution Control’, Chemosphere 262 (2020) 128376,

[31] Jantunen, M.; Jaakkola, J,J,K.; Krzyzanowsji, M, Assessment of exposure to indoor air pollutants, Series n˚ 78, WHO Regional Office for Europe, Copenhagen (1997), (acesso em 2021-04-27).

[32] EPA, Technical Overview of Volatile Organic Compounds, United States – Environmental Protection Agency, (n.d.) (acesso em 2021-04-27).

[33] Brimblecombe, P., ‘The composition of museum atmospheres’, Atmospheric Environment 24B(No. 1) (1990) 1-8,

[34] Schieweck, A., Airborne Pollutants in Museum Showcases: Material Emissions, Influences, Impacts on Artworks, Dissertação de Doutoramento, Academy of Fine Arts, Dresden (2009),

[35] Ankersmit, H. A.; Tennent, N. H.; Watts, S. F., ‘Hydrogen sulfide and carbonyl sulfide in the museum environment - Part 1’, Atmospheric Environment 39(4) (2005) 695-707,

[36] Krupińska, B.; Van Grieken, R.; De Wael, K., ‘Air quality monitoring in a museum for preventive conservation: Results of a three-year study in the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp, Belgium’, Microchemical Journal 110(2013) (2013) 350-360,

[37] Tétreault, J.; Cano, E.; van Bommel, M.; Scott, D.; Dennis, M.; Barthés-Labrousse, M.-G.; Minel, L.; Robbiola, L., ‘Corrosion of Copper and Lead by Formaldehyde, Formic and Acetic Acid Vapours’, Studies in Conservation 48(4) (2003) 237-250,

[38] Grøntoft, T.; López-Aparicio, S.; Scharff, M.; Ryhl-Svendsen, M.; Andrade, G.; Obarzanowski, M.; Thickett, D., ‘Impact Loads of Air Pollutants on Paintings: Performance Evaluation By Modeling for Microclimate Frames’, Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 50(February) (2011) 105-122,

[39] Grøntoft, T.; Schmidbauer, N.; Wisthaler, A.; Mikoviny, T.; Eichler, P.; Müller, M.; Hackney, S.; Sommer Larsen, A., ‘VOC emissions from canvas and acetic acid deposition to canvas and glass’, e-Preservation science 11 (2014) 22-28, (acesso em 2021-04-27).

[40] EPA, Facts about formaldehyde, EPA United States Environmental Protection Agency (n.d.), (acesso em 2020/11/24).

[41] Tétreault, J., ‘The Evolution of Specifications for Limiting Pollutants in Museums and Archives’, Journal of the Canadian Association for Conservation (J.CAC) 43(613) (2018) 21-37.

[42] Striegel, M. F., ‘The effects of gas phase formaldehyde on selected inorganic materials found in museums’, Objects Specialty Group Postprints, Vol. One, (1992) 1-12, (acesso em 2021-04-27).

[43] Thickett, D.; Lee, L. R., Selection of materials for the storage or display of museum objects, British Museum Press, London (2004).

[44] Hatchfield, P.; Carpenter, J., Formaldehyde: How great is the danger to museum collections?, Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge (1987).

[45] Liu, Z.; Little, J. C., ‘Materials responsible for formaldehyde and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions’, in Woodhead Publishing Series in Civil and Structural Engineering, Toxicity of Building Materials, eds. F. Pacheco-Torgal, S. Jalali & A. Fucic, Woodhead Publishing, Cambridge (2012) 76-121,

[46] De Faria, D. L. A.; Cavicchioli, A.; Puglieri, T. S., ‘Indoors lead corrosion: Reassessing the role of formaldehyde’, Vibrational Spectroscopy 54(2) (2010) 159-163,

[47] Puglieri, T. S., Impacto da composição química de microambientes em bens culturais: reatividade e monitoramento, Dissertação de Doutoramento, Instituto de Química, Universidade São Paulo, São Paulo (2014),

[48] Korenberg, C.; Bertolotti, G., ‘Emissions from MDF: Governing Factors and Mitigation Strategies’, Studies in Conservation 64(5) (2019) 249-260,

[49] Gibson, L. T.; Watt, C. M., ‘Acetic and formic acids emitted from wood samples and their effect on selected materials in museum environments’, Corrosion Science 52(1) (2010) 172-178,

[50] Thickett, D.; Allen, S., ‘Effect of temperature on off-gassing and corrosion’, in IAQ – Indoor Air Quality in Heritage and Historic Environments 2018, Krakow (2018), (acesso em 2021-04-28).

[51] Ankersmit, H. A.; Noble, G.; Ridge, L.; Stirling, D.; Tennent, N. H.; Watts, S., ‘The protection of silver collections from tarnishing’, Studies in Conservation, 45(sup1) (2000) 7-13,

[52] Homem, P. M., Corrosão atmosférica da prata: Monitorização e perspectivas de conservação preventiva, Dissertação de Doutoramento em Museologia, Porto (2013),

[53] Tétreault, J., ‘Sustainable use of coatings in museums and archives: some critical observations’, e-Preservation science 8(June) (2011) 39-48, (acesso em 2021-04-27).

[54] López-Aparicio, S.; Grøntoft, T.; Odlyha, M.; Dahlin, E.; Mottner, P.; Thickett, D.; Ryhl-Svendsen, M.; Schmidbauer, N.; Scharff, M., ‘Measurement of Organic and Inorganic Pollutants in Microclimate Frames for Paintigs’, e-Preservation Science 7 (2010) 59-70, (acesso em 2021-04-27).

[55] Samide, M. J.; Liggett, M. C.; Smith, G. D., ‘The dose makes the poison: measuring harmful sulfurous VOCs emitted by rigid PVC used in museum construction’, in IAQ – Indoor Air Quality in Heritage and Historic Environments 2018, Krakow (2018), (acesso em 2021-04-28).

[56] Diehl, J.; Stanek, S.; Pitthard, V.; Hanzer, H.; Griesser, M.; Goldmann, B., ‘Preventive conservation strategies in the re-opened collection of the Kunstkammer of the Kunsthistoriches Museum Vienna. Theory versus practice.’, in IAQ 2016 – Indoor air quality in heritage and historic environments, Birminghan, (2016) 28-29, (acesso em 2021-04-28).

[57] Newman, R.; Byrne, E.; Chiantore, O.; Poli, T.; Riedo, C., ‘Strange Events Inside Display Cases at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Lessons to be Learned From Them – Part 1’, in Conservation and Exhibition Planning: Material Testing for Design, Display, and Packing, Lunder Conservation Center, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C. (2015).

[58] van Iperen, J.; van Keulen, H.; Keune, K.; Abdulah, K.; van Langh, R., ‘Crystalline Deposits in New Display Cases at the Rijksmuseum: Characterisation and Origin’, Studies in Conservation (2020),

[59] AA.VV., ‘Identifying VOCs in exhibition cases and efflorescence on museum objects exhibited at Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian-New York’, Heritage Science 8(1) (2020) 1-13,

[60] Schilling, M. R.; Carson, D. M.; Khanjian, H. P., ‘Evaporation of fatty acids and the formation of ghost images by framed oil paintings’, Newsletter (Western Association for Art Conservation) 21(1) (1999) 17-19.

[61] Coccato, A.; Moens, L.; Vandenabeele, P., ‘On the stability of mediaeval inorganic pigments: A literature review of the effect of climate, material selection, biological activity, analysis and conservation treatments’, Heritage Science 5(1) (2017) 1-25,

[62] Grosjean, D.; Salmon, L. G.; Cass, G. R., ‘Fading of Organic Artists’ Colorants by Atmospheric Nitric Acid: Reaction Products and Mechanisms’, Environmental Science and Technology 26(5) (1992) 952-959,

[63] ‘NARA 1571, Archival Storage Standards’ (2002), in National Archives, (acesso em 2021-04-27).

[64] ‘Poluição Atmosférica Mundial: Índice de qualidade do ar em tempo real’, in World Air Quality Index project, (acesso em 2020-05-23).

[65] ‘Oddy Test: materials databases’ (2013), in AIC Wiki – A Collaborative Knowledge Resource, (acesso em 2021-01-08).

[66] Strlič, M.; Thomas, J.; Trafela, T.; Cséfalvayová, L.; Kralj Cigić, I.; Kolar, J.; Cassar, M., ‘Material Degradomics: On the Smell of Old Books’, Analytical Chemistry 81(20) (2009) 8617-8622,

[67] Kubba, S., ‘Chapter 7 – Indoor Environmental Quality’, in LEED Practices, Certification, and Accreditation Handbook (2010) 211-269,

[68] Veríssimo, M. I. S.; Oliveira, J. A. B. P.; Evtuguin, D. V.; Gomes, M. T. S. R., ‘Preserve Your Books through the Smell’, ACS Sensors 4(11) (2019) 2915-2921,

[69] Bembibre, C.; Strlič, M., ‘Smell of heritage: A framework for the identification, analysis and archival of historic odours’, Heritage Science 5(1) (2017) 2-11,

[70] World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe, ‘6.6 Hidrogen Sulfide’ in Air Quality Guidelines, 2nd Edition, WHO regional publications, European series No. 91 (2000) 146-148, (acesso em 2021-04-27).

[71] National Institutes of Health (NIH), ‘Acetaldehyde’’, in PubChem Compound Summary, National Center for Biotechnology Information, (acesso em 2020-05-11).

[72] Agbota, H.; Mitchell, J. E.; Odlyha, M.; Strlič, M., ‘Remote assessment of cultural heritage environments with wireless sensor array networks’, Sensors (Switzerland) 14(5) (2014) 8779-8793,

[73] Dahlin, E. (ed.), MEMORI – Measurement, Effect Assessment and Mitigation of Pollutant Impact on Movable Cultural Assets – Innovative Research for Market Transfer (2010), (acesso em 2021-04-27).

[74] ‘Oddy Test Protocols’, in AIC Wiki - A Collaborative Knowledge Resource, (aceso em 2020-05-23).

[75] Green, L. R.; Thickett, D., ‘Testing Materials for Use in the Storage and Display of Antiquities: A Revised Methodology’, Studies in Conservation 40(3) (1995) 145-152,

[76] Homem, P. M., ‘Conservação preventiva em contextos culturais. Recursos tecnológicos para gestão de risco ambiental; poluição’, Revista da Faculdade de Letras – Ciências e Técnicas do Património XII(Iic) (2013) 305-317.

[77] Balcar, N.; Barabant, G.; Bollard, C.; Kuperholc, S.; Keneghan, B.; Laganà, A.; vo Oosten, T.; Segel, K.; Shashoua, Y., ‘Studies in cleaning plastics’, in POPART: Preservation of Plastic Artefacts in Museum Collections, eds. B. Lavédrine, A. Fournier & Graham Martin, CTHS (2012) 225-269, (acesso em 2021-04-27).

[78] Odlyha, M.; Jakiela, S.; Slater, J; Bozec, L.; Bergsten, C.; Grøntoft, T.; Dahlin, E.; Colombini, M. P.; Bonaduce, I.; Thickett, D.; Larsen, M.; Scharff, M., ‘Piezo-electric quartz crystal-based dosimetry and damage assessment of parchment and artists’varnish’, in European Workshop on Cultural Heritage Preservation – EWCHP 2011, Stuttgart, Fraunhofer IRB Verlag, Berlin (2011), 182-187.

[79] Odlyha, M.; Theodorakopoulos, C.; Thickett, D.; Ryhl-Svendsen, M.; Slater, J. M.; Campana, R., ‘Dosimeters for indoor microclimate monitoring for cultural heritage’, in Museum Microclimates, eds. T. Padfield & K. Borchersen , National Museum of Denmark (2007) 73-79, (acesso em 2021-04-27).

[80] Grøntoft, T.; Dahlin, E.; Haland, S.; Vika Hoen, H.; Heltne, T.; Thickett, D.; Lankester, P.; Schieweck, A., ‘The “Memori System”; measurements, effect assessment and mitigation of pollutant impact on movable cultural assets – Innovative research for market transfer’, in 3rd European Workshop on Cultural Heritage Preservation, ed. A. Troi & E. Lucchi Bolzano, EURAC (2013) 23-28, (acesso em 2021-04-27).

[81] Curran, K.; Underhill, M.; Gibson, L. T.; Strlic, M., ‘The development of a SPME-GC/MS method for the analysis of VOC emissions from historic plastic and rubber materials’, Microchemical Journal 124 (2015) 909-918,

[82] Maines, C. A., ‘Implementation of Solid-Phase Microextraction (SPME) for Assessment of Exhibition & Storage Materials Christopher A. Maines’, in Conservation & Ehibition Planning: Material Testing for Design, Display & Packing, Lunder Conservation Center and the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, Washington, D.C. (2015) 14-15.

[83] Glastrup, J.; Ryhl-Svendsen, M., ‘Recent improvements in SPME-GC/MS detection of acetic and formic acid in air’, in IAQ 2001: 4th meeting of the Indoor Air Pollution Working Group, ed. M. Ryhl-Svendsen, The National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen (2001), (acesso em 2021-04-03).

[84] Curran, K.; Underhill, M.; Grau-Bové, J.; Fearn, T.; Gibson, L. T.; Strlič, M., ‘Classifying Degraded Modern Polymeric Museum Artefacts by Their Smell’, Angewandte Chemie – International Edition 57(25) (2018) 7336-7340,

[85] Maekawa, S.; Beltran, V. L.; Henry, M. C., Environmental management for collections: Alternative preservation strategies for hot and humid climates, ed. T. Ball, The Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles (2015).

[86] Blades, N.; Oreszczyn, T.; Bordass, B.; Cassar, M., Guidelines on pollution control in heritage buildings, Museum Association, London (2000), (acesso em 2021-04-27).

[87] Cruz, A. J.; Pires, J.; Carvalho, A. P.; Brotas de Carvalho, M., ‘Comparison of adsorbent materials for acetic acid removal in showcases’, Journal of Cultural Heritage 9(3) (2008) 244-252,

[88] Schieweck, A., ‘Adsorbent media for the sustainable removal of organic air pollutants from museum display cases’, Heritage Science 8(1) (2020) 1-18,



How to Cite

Barbosa, K. ., Ferreira, T., Moreira, P., & Vieira, E. . (2021). Monitoring pollutant gases in museum microclimates: a relevant preventive conservation strategy . Conservar Património.



In press

Most read articles by the same author(s)