UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage


Cross-infection effect of polymers of historic and heritage significance


1 January 2014

The cross-infection effect of 105 polymer samples was studied, using cellulose as a reference test material. In total 14 polymer types were studied, comprising “modern materials” commonly found in historic and artistic collections including: cellulose acetate (CA), cellulose nitrate (CN), poly(vinyl chloride) (PVC), polyurethane (PUR) and a selection of specialised packaging materials used in art and heritage conservation. Polymer samples were placed in glass vials containing a piece of the cellulose reference and vials were sealed before being heated to 80 C for 14 days. The cross-infection effect on the reference cellulose was measured using viscometry to calculate the degree of polymerisation relative to that of a control reference and a classification system of the cross-infection or preservation effect is proposed. Solid phase micro-extraction (SPME)-GC/MS was used to detect and identify the emitted volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from a select number of polymer samples. CN was identified as the polymer with the most severe cross-infection effect while others e.g. polycarbonate (PC) had no effect or even a beneficial effect. Acetic acid was found to be the most characteristic emission detected from the most severely cross-infecting materials.

Cross-infection effect of polymers of historic and heritage significance on the degradation of a cellulose reference test. Polymer Degradation and Stability, 107 294-306.

Curran, K., Mozir, A., Underhill, M., Gibson, L.T., Strlic, M. (2014)