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Subject: Odor in textile collection

Odor in textile collection

From: Barbara Appelbaum <aandh>
Date: Friday, November 8, 1996
In regard to Mr. Liao's inquiry on a smell in storage possible
linked to Interior Steel cabinets:  this is not an unusual
situation.  Enamelled steel cabinets often suffer from off-gassing
because of the difficulty in large case furniture of baking the
paint at a high enough temperature to drive off all the volatile
materials without leaving burn marks in some areas.

Many museums have had the same problem with cabinets from Interior
Steel.  Delta Designs, another manufacturer, developed powder
coatings for steel cabinets quite a few years ago, and they have a
much better track record.  The question remains about what to do
about the problem, since in many institutions the number of cabinets
involved is so large that replacement is not practical.  Frequent
ventilation, as you have found, will help, but if the cabinets are
being used to protect the collection from changes in RH, this will
simply swap one set of problems for another.

An important question is to what degree the off-gassing is harmful
to the material stored in the cabinets.  Extremely sensitive
material should be removed, and consideration should be given to
boxing some objects for protection.  Another possibility is the use
of scavengers like potassium permanganate.  This would be difficult
if the cabinets have solid shelves, but should work. It may require
containers of permanganate on each shelf.  Given what I have seen in
a situation similar to what you describe, the permanganate may have
to be changed once a year.

Before you get involved in details about what to do, you should
seriously consider where the actual problem lies and what the
resources are for dealing with it. Interior steel cabinets are very
good for non-collection uses--if they could be sold, for example,
perhaps powder-coated replacements would be affordable.  On the
other hand, if the collections stored in them are mostly
non-sensitive ones like ceramics, other ways of handling the problem
are appropriate.  If the major problem is the human discomfort
involved with the smell or concern about possible health effects,
then, again, the strategy would be different.  Data are available
from testing of the off-gassing, if they would help you make
decisions.

Good luck,
B. Appelbaum

                                  ***
                  Conservation DistList Instance 10:46
                 Distributed: Friday, November 8, 1996
                       Message Id: cdl-10-46-001
                                  ***
Received on Friday, 8 November, 1996

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