The GCI Scientific Program has been measuring indoor-generated pollutants in museum environments—specifically gaseous organic carbonyl pollutants (formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, formic acid, and acetic acid)—since the late 1980s. Institute staff have occasionally had the opportunity to revisit an institution and observe changes implemented as a result of the GCI's pollution monitoring. One such institution is the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in Santa Barbara, California.
In 1988 the Santa Barbara Museum participated in the GCI's first survey of carbonyl pollutants in U.S. museums. The museum staff noticed that the internal lock mechanisms of wooden storage cabinets were corroding and brought this to the attention of the Institute's Cecily Grzywacz and Dusan Stulik. Air samples taken from the cabinets confirmed that the corrosion was due to the high levels of formic acid and acetic acid released from the wood products. When the collections were surveyed, carbonyl pollutant efflorescence was detected on a few objects, a finding that further indicated a pollutant problem in the storage cabinets.
In response to the survey findings, the museum modified the storage cabinet doors. The center portions of the doors were cut out and replaced with screens to increase air circulation. Subsequent testing by Cecily Grzywacz confirmed that these modifications had been successful. Formic acid was no longer detectable, and the acetic acid concentrations were reduced by 75 percent. This example demonstrates the impact of the carbonyl pollution surveys and the initiative of the Santa Barbara Museum, the usefulness of air sampling, and the importance of testing to confirm the effectiveness of palliative measures.
In 1993 the Institute's second major carbonyl pollutant survey was conducted at six museums in Glasgow, Edinburgh, and London, and at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Several display case designs were evaluated at the Rijksmuseum. This monitoring effort indicated pollutant problems within some cases. Institute scientific staff returned to the Rijksmuseum in 1994 for a very successful collaboration in which they monitored the levels of carbonyl pollutants in a series of newly designed display cases. Monitoring results confirmed that the new designs by the Rijksmuseum staff improved air quality with respect to indoor-generated carbonyl pollutants.