Working safely with contaminated cultural heritage

by Roksana Jachim M.A.

Shortened pilot course with reduced number of : 22 October to 2 December 2018
Fee: 139,- € (Students get a reduction of 20%).

Cultural objects made of wood, leather, textiles, botanical and other natural materials were treated in the past with biocides for protection against pests and microbial infestation. While the toxicity of the first artificial substances used for this purpose in the 15th century (namely arsenic and mercury), was problematic but manageable, industrial production and broad distribution, in particular in the second half of the last century, led to an extensive use which has left a dangerous toxic heritage.

Still, contaminated cultural heritage must be preserved and investigated, and its art-historical significance often must be presented to a broad public. Different professional groups—for example from the fields of restoration, preparation, museology, and the arts and sciences—work very closely with the objects. They need to pay attention to the protection of their personal health, particularly as the toxic substances are not only in the material and on the surface, but also in the dust and the room air. Numerous cultural objects, sometimes even whole collections, as well as interiors have a significant hazard potential, which needs to be faced in an informed way. In addition to this is the fact that since 2016 all activities with contaminated objects are subject to regulations on hazardous substances. This obliges collections to create a so-called danger analysis for all tasks with potentially contaminated items and to implement protective measures.

This internet-based course is designed to inform the different professional groups about how to deal with potentially contaminated cultural heritage. Paper-based and archive objects are, however, not included. The course delivers background knowledge for appropriately assessing hazards and offers possible courses of action. With the help of detailed explanations and numerous illustrations, even learners with little previous knowledge can participate. Literature references, tabular presentations and references to current standards and legal texts complement the course.

The E-Learning Course is divided into individual learning modules. In the first module, the participants gain basic knowledge about the relevant contaminants, their damage potential and the application areas. The second module deals with the diversity of potentially contaminated objects. By means of examples the participants learn about contamination pathways and the consequences, thereby becoming sensitized to assess possible contaminations in a better way. The third module concentrates on the basics of biocide assessment and presents improved investigation methods. Health risks can be assessed more adequately when it is known for whom and under what circumstances certain substances are dangerous. Also shown are the professional analytical methods which should be commissioned after the situation is evaluated. The fourth module explains which personal, organizational and technical action strategies should be followed when a contamination is suspected or confirmed. Work safety indications are also presented.