Hazardous materials were frequently used in heritage (objects, sites and buildings) in the past, both as applications inherent to the heritage (e.g. fireproof asbestos textile) or during restoration and conservation treatments (e.g. pesticides to treat wood against insects). Today, many of these objects have found a second life in heritage institutions and collections, and buildings and sites are opened to a wider public. Although there is increasing awareness of the harmfulness of these materials and substances, this heritage poses a challenge to museum and heritage professionals.
On the one hand, there is the uttermost important need to develop measures to be taken in order to ensure their safe storage, handling and display. In this way, not only museum staff are protected, but also the wider public. This includes also ethical questions concerning the extent to which museums and heritage sites are providing appropriate training and information to their staff and visitors. On the other hand, there is a lack of theoretical research on the heritage values which different stakeholders, such as heritage communities and museum professionals, attach to cultural heritage that contains hazardous material. There is a need for a theoretical framework answering the question of whether it is appropriate to remove harmful materials, as they are also part of the heritage itself, its history and significance.
By combining these two areas of research - focusing on technical aspects, ethical issues, management and heritage values - thoughtful conservation and preservation (in the future) is ensured. These questions apply to various harmful materials, such as pesticides, toxic substances, asbestos, and radioactive materials. Answers to these questions and how we should deal with this hazardous heritage may differ depending on the nature of the dangerous material, but it is highly necessary to conduct further research on these issues and to exchange knowledge between different researchers with varying research objectives.
This conference aims to identify and share the state of the art in current theory and practice around hazardous materials that occur in tangible cultural heritage. The challenges related to hazardous materials in tangible heritage, such as buildings, sites and heritage objects, can be approached from different angles. It ranges from the identification of harmful substances, prevention and safety regulations in the heritage sector, to conservation ethics, theoretical questions related to the heritage value and significance of hazardous heritage and the history behind this heritage. These interrelated and connected fields require an array of specialised expertise. However, they all contribute pieces of the puzzle to answer questions related to how to approach hazardous heritage. Therefore, this conference focuses on the following objectives:
- To forge interdisciplinary connections and bring together researchers and heritage professionals who are working on health and safety in the work environment, chemists, conservation scientists, preventive conservation specialists and heritage workers.
- To promote knowledge about substances harmful to health found in cultural and natural heritage objects, buildings, and sites.
- To establish a network for researchers and other people working on hazardous heritage and other health hazards in the field of cultural and natural heritage.
- To prevent exposure of employees to substances harmful to health in the field of cultural and natural heritage.
- To foster dialogue about the heritage value and significance of materials harmful to health.
- To bring together researchers and museum professionals interested in hazardous heritage to network, share information and establish new collaborations.