42nd Annual Meeting – Conservators in Private Practice, May 28, "Greening your Conservation Practice."

Believing heat wheels work is like believing you can section off a part of a hot tub for peeing.

Headline speaker Monona Rossol began this year’s CIPP workshop with her characteristic flair when referring to the use of the heat exchange system with contaminated air streams. The system is often recommended to score points for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification and served as an example of how greener practices may not necessarily be safer practices.  An Industrial Hygienist and health and safety champion for the arts community, Monona is the founder of Arts, Crafts and Theater Safety (ACTS). If you don’t leave one of her lectures concerned about everything you have ever come in contact with, you should at the very least have a better idea of how to navigate your way through the jargon of government, industry and product health and safety information.
The beginning of Monona’s talk introduced the pitfalls of blindly accepting the safety information provided by government regulatory organizations and manufacturers. In her explanation of many of the acronyms associated with chemical classifications and exposure assessments, Monona emphasized that it’s what we don’t know about chemicals that is the most concerning. For example, phrases such as “not listed as a carcinogen” and “generally recognized as safe” do not indicate that the chemical is not toxic, but may mean that it has never been tested. She also reviewed the improved chemical labeling and Safety Data Sheets (SDSs), as outlined by the new OSHA Hazard Communication Standard. Even though SDSs are better than their predecessors, Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs), they still are limited by lack of information. Finally, she discussed commercially manipulated and undefined “green” phrases like all natural–just because something comes from nature does not make it is safe–and biodegradable– chemicals can breakdown into compounds that can be more toxic than what you started with.
So what can we do as conservators and consumers to protect ourselves, the others we work with and the environment?

  • Become a conscientious and informed user; understand and learn about the products in your studio as well as the language and limitations of hazard communication (such as manufacturer provided SDSs) and local and federal regulations.
  • Purchase products from companies that disclose the full ingredient lists and avoid products that have proprietary formulations.
  • Support laws such as California’s PROP 65, which requires the state to publish a list of toxic chemicals. Businesses must notify Californians about significant amounts of chemicals in their products or that are released into the environment. By allowing anyone “acting in the public interest” to enforce the law, it takes the responsibility for policing manufacturers and their harmful materials out of the hands of legislators and bureaucrats and into the hands of the people who are being affected by toxic chemicals (you!).

In the second half of her presentation, Monona discussed air quality and fume and particle extraction. She first reviewed the definitions of gases, vapors, fumes, dusts, mists, nano-particles and smokes; their associated health hazards; and types of filters that can be used. In her discussion of fume extraction, she cautioned that window fans and air conditioners are not proper ventilation and of the limited efficacy of portable, filter-based fume extractors. Her main point was that proper extraction involves a displacement system that exhausts to the exterior in concert with bringing in uncontaminated air from a source on a wall across from the exhaust (not from an adjacent wall or window). A clear path of air flow should put the conservator’s head directly in the stream. Filter-based extractors can be selective to the vapors and/or particles sizes they collect; only clear the immediate work area; do not provide clean replacement air; and have no indication of when the filter is no longer functioning properly. She stressed that when you are designing your ventilation system, you should consult a specialist with an industrial ventilation background. While there were too many points to discuss in a few hour workshop and certainly too many to adequately cover in a blog, Monona is always willing to respond to anyone’s concerns or review your studio set-up.

The remainder of the session focused on greener business practices. Chair of the Committee on Sustainability, Betsy Haude, outlined the committee’s activities over the past year, including several AIC News articles and making their wiki into an informative and useful resource.
Objects Conservator Sarah Nunberg, followed up with an outline of the results of a Life Cycle Assessment to look at the environmental impact of museum practices. Conducted in collaboration with the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, students at Northeastern University performed four case studies using a computer program with a series of user defined parameters:  1) halogen vs. LED lighting, 2) solvents used for consolidation of stone, 3) loans and transport, and 4) HVAC systems. They concluded that the LED lighting was more energy efficient. In the second case, silane in ethanol proved to have the greatest negative environmental impact over B72 in xylene and B72 in acetone and ethanol; xylene had a greater impact than acetone/ethanol primarily due to its production. In their loan assessment they compared a loan going to Tampa, Florida and a loan going to Japan. Interestingly, they discovered that accommodating for the courier had the greatest environmental impact. Finally, their study also showed that shutting down HVAC systems every night decreased the energy costs by 40%, but that the overall energy impact also depended on the source. Seeing quantified data on these various museum conditions allows for a discussion on how museums can potentially reduce their environmental impact, while still considering the elements of maintaining and promoting their collections.
The final three San Francisco-based speakers discussed the various programs that are available for greening business in California.  Wendy Yeung of the California Green Development Program presented on how this government program works with local business to implement environmental protocols that are both sustainable and profitable. Anya Deepak, a Commercial Toxics Reduction Associate with the San Francisco Department of the Environment, discussed their program for artists, which is an outreach initiative to raise awareness among Bay Area artists on environmental and health issues associated with their art materials. The program is currently in the first phase of implementation and will eventually address disposal, safety and finding alternatives. Organizers discovered they were able to get remarkable participation and interest from all the studios they contacted by suggesting that the artists could have an effect on the environment by following these practices–a notably more positive response than when they tried to appeal to the artist’s personal health and safety. Finally, Anna Jaeger from Caravan Studios, a division of TechSoup Global, discussed various electronic and tech-based programs for greener business administration. Her examples focused on the idea that it is more effective to change the situation or environment than to change an individual’s behavior. Tips included using smart power strips and multi-function machines; conducting virtual meetings; and purchasing refurbished electronics since the majority of energy use goes into their production.
The seminar concluded with a group discussion of what sustainability means to us and the field of conservation. Can artifact preservation and environmental preservation coexist? How can we make the annual meeting more sustainable? Should ventilation regulations focus on optimal human performance within that space or optimal environmental impact?

3 thoughts on “42nd Annual Meeting – Conservators in Private Practice, May 28, "Greening your Conservation Practice."”

  1. I’m hoping that the fairly miserable sign up for the workshop didn’t reflect the interest of Conservators in Private Practice about the important in-lab health issues and greening their practice. Perhaps we need to “translate” this information to be more applicable for ECPN? Repackaged to be absorbed differently? Presented through different media to be available to a wider group? Not only can this info be a needed upgrade for a lab space (we opted for the ceiling mounted evac tubes as seen in our lab tour for the public at http://www.fineartconservationlab.com) but a website can also be certified as a green part of a business.

  2. I know for sure that young conservators are very concerned with these issues, particularly since many of them have heard Monona speak before. Unfortunately, I’m also aware that many emerging private practice conservators have difficulty finding the time and money to attend the Annual Meeting–and there were a lot of other great, competing workshops this year. The Health & Safety Committee agrees that this information should be reiterated and repackaged through different media and are currently working to create reference materials on practical solutions to fume and particle extraction, for example. It is great to get real-world examples of what conservators are using, so thank you for sharing!

  3. Scott, you and many other mid career conservators who generally come out for the CIPP workshops were missed this year. I feel sure this group is just as interested in health and safety issues in-lab as are our young conservators. Perhaps we feel there’s nothing new to be learned in this area? To paraphrase Monona, the field of health and safety is changing so quickly that she won’t allow any of our workshop materials to be put online. The workshop materials can only be used for internal purposes, and even then we’d need to obtain Monona’s permission after six months. Her concern is that some of the information might need to be revised.
    That said, I agree with you and Kerith that some of this material should be repackaged to create reference materials. To that end, the CIPP workshop Committee discussed the idea of publishing on some of these topics with Monona back in March. We should get back to her with some possible topics of interest to CIPP!

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