Measurement of volatile organic compounds emitted in libraries and archives: an inferential indicator of paper decay?

Lorraine Gibson, Abdunaser Ewlad-Ahmed, Barry Knight, Velson Horie, Gemma Mitchell, Claire Joanne Robertson

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40 Citations (Scopus)
29 Downloads (Pure)


A sampling campaign of indoor air was conducted to assess the typical concentration of indoor air pollutants in 8 National Libraries and Archives across the U.K. and Ireland. At each site, two locations were chosen that contained various objects in the collection (paper, parchment, microfilm, photographic material etc.) and one location was chosen to act as a sampling reference location (placed in a corridor or entrance hallway).
Of the locations surveyed, no measurable levels of sulfur dioxide were detected and low formaldehyde vapour (< 18 μg m-3) was measured throughout. Acetic and formic acids were measured in all locations with, for the most part, higher acetic acid levels in areas with objects compared to reference locations. A large variety of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) was measured in all locations, in variable concentrations, however furfural was the only VOC to be identified consistently at higher concentration in locations with paper-based collections, compared to those locations without objects. To cross-reference the sampling data with VOCs emitted directly from books, further studies were conducted to assess emissions from paper using solid phase microextraction fibres (SPME) fibres and a newly developed method of analysis; collection of VOCs onto a polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) elastomer strip.
In this study acetic acid and furfural levels were consistently higher in concentration when measured in locations which contained paper-based items. It is therefore suggested that both acetic acid and furfural (possibly also trimethylbenzenes, ethyltoluene, decane and camphor) may be present in the indoor atmosphere as a result of cellulose degradation and together may act as an inferential non-invasive marker for the deterioration of paper. Direct VOC sampling was successfully achieved using SPME fibres and analytes found in the indoor air were also identified as emissive by-products from paper. Finally a new non-invasive, method of VOC collection using PDMS strips was shown to be an effective, economical and efficient way of examining VOC emissions directly from the pages of a book and confirmed that toluene, furfural, benzaldehyde, ethylhexanol, nonanal and decanal were the most concentrated VOCs emitted directly from paper measured in this study.
Original languageEnglish
Article number42
Number of pages22
JournalChemistry Central Journal
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2012


  • library conservation
  • indoor air monitoring
  • passive sampling
  • active sampling
  • Tenax TA
  • paper degradation


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