Volume 11, Number 2, May 1989, pp.21-22

Conference Reviews

Chris Stavroudis, column editor

Two conferences are reviewed in this column:

  1. "Preservation Technology Delegation to China," review by Glenn Wharton.
  2. "Environmental, Health, and Safety Aspects of Coating Work," review by Steve Cristin-Poucher.

Preservation Technology Delegation to China

Several WAAC members participated in the recent Preservation Technology Delegation to China, led by Terry Drayman Weisser. The trip was coordinated by the People to People Citizen Ambassador Program, founded by President Eisenhower. The attending WAAC members were Nancy Odegaard, Linda Strauss, and Glenn Wharton. The group traveled along the ancient silk route, which served as a vital artistic and cultural link between the Chinese and Indian Civilizations from the second through thirteenth centuries A.D. Beginning in Urumqi (Northwest China), the group traveled through the Taklamakan and Gobi deserts to Turpan, Dunhuang, Lanzhou, Xi'an, and Beijing.

The mission of the delegation was to both establish professional contacts and to exchange technical information. At each stop during the eighteen day journey, formal meetings, informal site tours and laboratory visits were organized. WAAC members prepared lectures on the following topics: freezing as a treatment for insect infestation by Nancy Odegaard, the use of electroforming in conservation by Linda Strauss, and the management of disaster relief efforts by Glenn Wharton.

Many of the artifacts excavated along the silk route are in surprisingly good condition. This is due primarily to the dry conditions of burial in the desert. Organic materials such as paper, wood, and lacquer have survived from the 2nd century B.C. and earlier. They are covered with chlorides however, and the local conservators explained that many problems occur once the artifacts are excavated.

A number of cave sites along the silk route contain Buddhist wall paintings. Although many of the paintings have survived remarkably well, water and salts within the caves are causing serious cleavage between the mud plaster ground and the natural stone support. The Getty Conservation Institute has recently inaugurated an effort in collaboration with UNESCO to study the caves at Dunhuang, and propose methods of conservation.

The excavated oasis towns themselves are generally in poor condition. They were constructed in mud brick, and have not stood up well to the intense winds of the desert and the increased moisture due to the introduction of agriculture. Although many ideas were discussed between the American delegates and the Chinese conservators, no easy solutions were proposed. After this initial contact, it is hoped that professional exchange between our countries will continue in the future. Our Chinese colleagues are willing and ready to learn from us, and we have much to learn from them.

Glenn Wharton, Objects Conservator in Private Practice
Los Angeles/Santa Barbara

Environmental, Health, and Safety Aspects of Coating Work

The recently formed Southern California Chapter of the Steel Structures Painting Council, a national organization concerned with formulating, specifying, and applying coatings to structures, focused its first full meeting on Environmental, Health, and Safety Aspects of Coatings Work. The meeting turned out to be more informative and perhaps alarming than I had expected.

Of special interest to conservators is the imminent problem of the new California VOC regulations. VOC, volatile organic compounds, have been determined to be a prime culprit in production of lower atmosphere ozone. 90% of California's residents live in areas which are designated in chronic violation of the EPA mandated 0.09 ppm ozone levels. Government regulators have decided that the release of VOCs into the atmosphere must be reduced to an absolute minimum. While much has been done in the past in an attempt to control emissions, it pales in comparison to what will be mandated in the immediate future.

Mr. Dan Donohone, of the California Air Resources Board, Stationary Source Division (i.e. non-vehicular emissions) presented a paper on "VOC Regulations--Past, Present, Future". He is responsible for drafting the regulations governing solvent release into the atmosphere.

161 tons of solvent are released into the California air every day from architectural coatings; another 932 tons from other surface coatings; and 239 tons from consumer goods. Advances in low VOC coatings--water borne, high solids, powder coatings, radiation curing--would only reduce the emissions by 100 tons per day. Federal mandate specifies a 55% decrease from current levels.

Possible future measures to reduce the amount of VOC release include a ban on aerosols such as deodorants, hair sprays, and spray paints; mandatory car pools; fines; a state or federal fee imposed on currently free parking such as at workplaces, shopping malls, and supermarkets; and generally stricter regulations. Products are classified based on VOC ratings, the number of grams of solvent per liter of mixed solution. Specifying a non- compliant coating on a project would technically constitute a federal or state violation. Whether or not a citation would be issued or other legal proceedings initiated would depend on the local district.

I spoke with Mr. Donohone, who was considered a pariah by the other attendees, after his talk. I told him about art conservators and other related preservation specialists. He was completely unaware of this group of users and suggested a small user exemption.

Currently the WAAC Board, myself, and any other interested conservators are planning to state the case for an Artist and Art Conservator exemption to the regulations. Mr. Donohone assured me that he would give the matter consideration.

Steve Cristin-Poucher, Objects Conservator,
Los Angeles County Museum of Art

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