How Museums Use Air Quality Monitors to Protect Their Artwork

Woman focused on museum air quality

Can you imagine the Louvre without the Mona Lisa?

Or the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art without the Starry Sky?

Museums are home to some of the most culturally significant artifacts in the world. Not only that, but they’re also essential caretakers—conserving and preserving our history for future generations. Whether it’s a painting, sculpture, or long-lost letters, these artifacts are worth preserving.

But what if museums were one of the leading causes of their damage and deterioration?

Today, we’ll discuss how indoor air quality in museums affects the objects it seeks to protect, and what they can do about it.

Why Air Quality's Important for Museum Conservation

Museums store valuable and often irreplaceable artifacts. Because of this, museum curators need to take extra care when handling precious objects.

For extremely valuable artifacts, they may even display them in enclosed environments to protect them. One famous example is the Declaration of Independence, which is sealed in a bulletproof glass case. Museums also do this to keep humidity and temperature levels stable to prevent mold, dust, and moisture build-up.

And it doesn’t stop there.

They even work to bring outdoor monuments inside to prevent their rapid deterioration from outdoor air pollution. This is because air pollution contains corrosive elements, like sulfuric acid, that seep into artifacts, causing them to destabilize and crack.

However, recent studies show that—in certain cases—indoor air quality in museums can be worse than outdoor air quality.

For example, the Metropolitan Museum reported that indoor air pollution is the 3rd most common cause of museum object damage after humidity and temperature fluctuations. Worse, 25% of European museums and cultural heritage sites identify air pollution as the main cause of short-term damage to their collection.

This is due to the nature of museums.

Many historical artifacts can contain harmful substances. Lead paint, for example, was used often in artwork – and the lead paint releases air pollution. Not to mention conservationists themselves also use toxic chemicals, including formaldehyde and hydrogen chloride gas.

Combine all this with the lack of air circulation inside museums...

And you get the perfect storm.

What Can Museums do to Manage Air Quality?

One solution is to invest in air quality monitors which measure the levels of pollutants and chemicals like carbon dioxide (CO2), particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). In doing so, museums can take decisive steps to mitigate the impact of poor indoor air quality on their collection.

How Museums Can Use Air Quality Monitors

Protecting objects with historical significance is an important job. So, to help you do that air quality monitors are the first step. Plus, commercial air quality monitors have become far more affordable for museums of all sizes than in the past.

Here are 3 ways museums can use them:

#1 - Create an Indoor Air Quality Network

Because air quality monitors can now connect to the internet, you can create your own indoor air quality network. You can do this by placing air quality monitors in various places in the museum and linking them to a single system or real-time air quality map.

In doing so, you can monitor the air quality of specific locations, identify which areas are prone to poor air conditions, and act accordingly.

#2 - Connect Air Quality Monitors to Smart Technology

You can even take your air quality monitor to another level by syncing it to your smart home technology. For example, you can set up air filtration in museums to turn on when air quality levels reach unhealthy levels.

That way, you save artifacts from long-term exposure to harmful air pollutants.

#3 - Automate Alarm Systems

Museum workers have a lot on their plates, making it easy to miss critical changes in air quality levels. However, you can easily avoid this by creating automation that will alert workers when air quality passes a specific threshold.

Then, you can act immediately and prevent lasting air pollution damage to your collection.

With the rise of accessible, accurate, and modern air quality monitors, museums can better detect and measure air quality in real time. More than anything, they can identify the sources of air pollution and take necessary steps to reduce and eliminate them.

By doing so, museums secure the future of the cultural artifacts under their care.

Connect With PurpleAir

At PurpleAir, there are tons of organizations and researchers around the world using our data—from Google to the EPA. We’re thrilled to see research like this being used to help local neighborhoods, and we look forward to seeing plenty more in the future.

Are you a technology company or institution looking to work with PurpleAir?

We’d love to connect and see how we can help you. Whether you’re interested in our air quality monitors or using our air quality data for your projects, feel free to reach out.