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Plastics in Heritage Collections: Poly(vinyl chloride) Degradation and Characterization

Tjaša Rijavec, Matija Strlič, Irena Kralj Cigić

Abstract


Museums and galleries house increasingly large collections of objects and contemporary art made of plastic materials, many of which undergo rapid material change. The main degradation processes of poly(vinyl chloride) (PVC) are elimination of HCl and plasticizer migration or leaching. This results in visible discolouration, stickiness and cracking. Degradation is known to be a multi-stage process that includes HCl elimination, formation of conjugated polyenes and cross-linking. Elimination of HCl begins due to structural irregularities (allylic and tertiary chlorides) and results in the formation of polyenes. When at least 7 conjugated double bonds are present, discolouration of PVC becomes visible.

Non-invasive techniques, such as IR and Raman spectroscopy are used for polymer identification and plasticizer quantification. Plasticizer degradation and particularly the late stages of PVC degradation can be investigated using SEC, GC-MS, TGA and DSC. Studies in heritage collections have revealed that, apart from HCl, PVC objects emit 2-ethylhexanol and other volatile degradation products, however, there is currently no indication that HCl is emitted at usual indoor conditions. There seems to be a general lack of systematic research into PVC degradation at the conditions of storage and display, which could result in the development of dose-response functions and in the development of preventive conservation guidelines for the management of PVC collections.


Keywords


Poly(vinyl chloride); plastics; non-destructive characterization; heritage collections; accelerated degradation

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17344/acsi.2020.6479

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Copyright (c) 2020 Tjaša Rijavec, Matija Strlič, Irena Kralj Cigić

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