The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 11, Number 4
Jun 1987


There is growing concern among conservators about the effect of formaldehyde and its deterioration products on museum artifacts (see the report of the AIC meeting in this issue). Last November, at the Harpers Ferry Regional Textile Group's 8th symposium, in Washington, DC, there were two papers on the problem: "The Problem of Formaldehyde in Museum Collections," by Jane Carpenter and Pamela Hatch-field; and "Plywood as a Storage and Display Case Material," by Ann Brooke Craddock. The first two authors, Hatchfield and Carpenter, have now published a book, Formaldehyde: How Great is the Danger to Museum Collections? It only has 44 pages, but it only costs $5.00. It is available from:

Formaldehyde, Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, Harvard University Art Museums, 32 Quincy St., Cambridge, MA 02138.

The information sheet that Michael Connolly had at the AIC meeting was called "Creating Micro Environments in Airtight Cabinets: A Warning." It is accompanied by a sheet giving directions for a colorimetric assay procedure adapted from the cosmetics industry. For a copy, write Michael D. Connolly, Conservation Dept., Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1200 West 38th St., Indianapolis, IN 46208.

Formaldehyde is a health hazard too. OSHA has proposed reducing the existing 8-hour tine-weighted average (TWA) exposure limit from three parts per million to either 1 ppm or 1.5 ppm, and to set an action level of either 0.5 ppm or 0.75 ppm TWA. There is growing evidence that it is a carcinogen. Besides its many industrial uses, it is used as a disinfectant, preservative and hardening agent. Its use in building construction (ureaformaldehyde foam insulation, plywood and particle board) makes it a major contributor to the indoor air pollution problem. Outgassing of formaldehyde doubles for every 6°C or 30% RH rise.

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