Over the past three years, senior chemistry major Tom Boundy has been researching air quality in Payson Library. I met him earlier this year when he stopped by Special Collections to check sensors placed in the rare book storage area. What I didn’t know at the time was that his tests were part of a larger project, spanning three years!
Last week I was able to attend Tom’s Honors chemistry thesis defense seminar held in the Keck Science Center. Students, professors, and I listened to his presentation, “Determination of Volatile Aldehydes and Ketones in Payson Library Air.”
Tom’s advisor, Dr. Jane Ganske, described his project briefly as addressing “the indoor air quality of a library environment, as well as [providing] a broader understanding of factors that play a role in the air we breathe indoors.”
In his research, he found that other studies explored off-gassing from books and the impact on health and preservation of museum collections, and the studies searched for evidence of ketones (more often aldehydes than ketones) and other chemicals, but not ones specifically known to actually come from books. The Payson Library study used the passive sampling method of studying primary and secondary volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in library air, by leaving a test strip in one location for seven days. (Primary VOCs are emitted directly from material surfaces, such as off-gassing from newly installed wood panels. Secondary VOCs are formed through reactions with air, happening indoors.)
In the study, samples were taken over multiple years and primarily above the book stacks in the circulating collections area on the first floor of Payson Library. Other air samples were taken around the university to compare against the Payson Library air, including in Special Collections storage in Payson Library (where there is a higher concentration of books in a smaller, more enclosed environment), in the weight room inside Firestone Fieldhouse (materials in the room are primarily metal and rubber), and in classroom 130 of Keck Science Center (a typical classroom).
Formaldehyde was the most abundant aldehyde found; this is commonly found in bonded wood products (such as in construction materials). Other aldehydes and ketones found were known byproducts of building materials, air fresheners, books and paper products, perfumes, and even human skin oil!
As a result of the research project, 21 compounds were identified and 18 were successfully quantified. This is the largest range found in any library study, which is a great accomplishment. While I am personally familiar with certain chemical properties of paper – I took a class about preservation of heritage materials while studying to earn my library degree – I never knew there was such a range of reactions taking place! The presentation was eye-opening, and I hope that another intrepid student will build on the work done in Payson Library.
Tom is also presenting his research as a poster presentation next week at the American Chemical Society national meeting and exposition in New Orleans. Congratulations Tom!