The most common reason for carrying out odour analysis is that an unpleasant odour has been reported. However, even when an odour is considered acceptable unless the cause of an odour is understood, it is not possible to establish whether or not there are any significant implications.
If an odour is noticeable, it means that there is a detectable level of airborne substance. This could be completely harmless, it could be toxic or it could be a sign of unacceptable material degradation.
Sometimes it may be possible to identify an odour from a site visit or to establish what it is likely to be, based on a review of the relevant material specifications. However, the only way to make a definite identification is to carry out a laboratory analysis. This can be done by analysis of a material specimen or taking an air sample from the local environment.
The analysis of air samples can be also be used to investigate airborne substances being given off by polymer materials, often referred to as “off-gassing”. This can be useful in polymer conservation applications, where artefacts are often stored in an enclosed or sealed environment or in analysis of the cavity in a glazing unit to investigate the degradation of sealants.
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