Gas: No Problem

Works Undamaged

Current levels of formaldehyde gas in the Arthur M. Sackler Museum will prevent the movement of any art into the Sackler storage facilities indefinitely, but has not delayed the opening of the museum or posed a threat to displayed art, museum officials said.

According to assistant director of operations in the Harvard University Art Museums Philip J. Parsons, formaldehyde gas is found in most types of pressed wood including the particle board used in Sackler storage areas.

Similar particle boards is used in museums nationwide, said Arthur C. Beale, Director of the Center for Conservation and Technical Studies in the Harvard University Art Museums.

"Recent research indicates that formaldehyde gas can create chemical changes which can damage works of art," said Parsons, referring in part to Beale's recent preliminary study in conjunction with the Harvard University Environmental Health Department.

"The effects of the gas can be mitigated," said Parsons. He said no art will be moved into Sackler storage until it is certain that there will be no risk to the collection.


Beale said that some of the wood could be treated to reduce levels of formaldehyde gas while other portions would be replaced.

No dollar figure has been set on the modifications according to the two officials, and no work will begin until the opening festivities are complete.

Beale, whose initial study surveyed over 100 museums, said "We're on the cutting edge of this research," since no other study of this kind had ever been undertaken before.

"I hope it spawns more research in the field," he said. "This research is an enormous benefit to museums all across the country," added Parsons.