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Subject: Offgassing from plywood shelving

Offgassing from plywood shelving

From: Barbara Appelbaum <aandh>
Date: Wednesday, July 28, 1999
Claudius Schettini <claudius [at] fi__ats__it> writes

>... Ms Jaeschke mentions the spider plant as being of
>help in absorbing formaldehyde gas. I wonder whether anyone on the
>list could provide the scientific name of this plant besides any
>other helpful information on how to deal with the problem.

This may be beating a dead horse, but something I just read brought
me back to the discussion of using plants to cut down on pollutants
from plywood shelving--a list of pollutants, both particulate and
gaseous, put out by plants (Peter Brimblecombe, "Particulate
material in air of art galleries," in Dirt and Pictures Separated,
UKIC 1990). Insects are also, of course, attracted to plants.  And
technical science aside, dead leaves, crumbs from potting soil, and
drips from watering all make the idea inadvisable in a space that is
supposed to be kept completely clean.  Add the light, particularly
UV, that is needed to keep plants healthy, and the picture gets

A more complex issue, but one that should not be allowed to slip
through the cracks, is the idea that it is the conservators'
responsibility to "fix" every that someone else does wrong.  I do
not suggest that conservators should not try to make conditions
better for the collection, but when someone makes a costly mistake
that could have been avoided,it is not always helpful to sweep it
under the rug.  In many cases, there are legitimate reasons that the
usual conservation recommendations for materials cannot be followed,
but a proper process for decision-making entails a team effort to
come up with the best proposal for the particular circumstances.
This would include, if I recall the case correctly, an investigation
of plywood types, the chemical properties of different veneer
materials, and the optimal choice of coatings, as well as
consideration of initial costs, maintenance, and mitigation costs,
and projected long-term costs related to unnecessary aging of

It is important for conservators to project a professional image, to
adopt a stance that does not sound too much like whining, and to
avoid blaming a single individual for doing something obviously
stupid.  (This would be easier if people stopped doing so many
stupid things!)  The optimal solution to a problem is seldom obvious
at first glance.  The best message to try to leave other staff after
a bad experience is that a group effort could probably have arrived
at a proposal that would have been better, more cost-efficient, etc.
The bad outcome, and perhaps a more common one, is that other staff
are less likely to ask for help in the future because they "know"
that you will tell them that they are wrong.

B. Appelbaum

                  Conservation DistList Instance 13:11
                   Distributed: Friday, July 30, 1999
                       Message Id: cdl-13-11-003
Received on Wednesday, 28 July, 1999

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