Anoxic Packaging Overview
Low Oxygen Conditions
Anoxic packaging techniques may be used when storing organic materials, many metals, and other materials that will deteriorate in the presence of oxygen. An oxygen-free atmosphere not only prevents a wide variety of chemical reactions, but also protects the enclosed items from the action of most bacteria, molds, and insects. Oxygen-free packaging may be combined with desiccants, zeolites and other absorbent materials to control off-gassed pollutants.
The oxygen excluding case or envelope also protects the item from physical and atmospheric dangers. Barrier envelopes are resistant to water, smoke and noxious chemicals. Labels and documentation included inside the envelope remain legible and undamaged. Discrete collections will remain relatively complete and intact in the aftermath of common fire-related collateral damage (eg water, smoke, chemical, insect or mold damage) or floods.
Insects cannot survive in an oxygen-free atmosphere. Anoxic packaging provides safe, effective, and poison-free method of controlling vermin for incoming materials. Short-term anoxic storage will destroy known insect infestations. Anoxia may be used as a prophylactic treatment for almost all objects entering a collection.
Barrier bags also provide protection from items that have been fumigated in the past and may still contain residual toxins. Packaging objects provides added security against loss, theft, and mislabeling. Groups of like objects packaged together are less likely to be separated. Objects may not be removed or handled without opening a sealed envelope, but resealing takes only a moment.
Cataloguing, storage and inventory of small items becomes more cost-efficient. For example: discrete collections of natural history or archeological samples may be packaged in the field, and then catalogued, photographed, x-rayed, inventoried, and stored without opening the transparent envelope.
Archives and Storage Conditions
Anoxic packaging of sensitive items in barrier film for storage allows for less rigorous storage conditions in archives, warehouses, or storage areas. Anoxic packaging may allow less rigorous HVAC conditions on museum premises, providing substantial savings in both capital and operating costs.
Keepsafe Microclimate Systems offers a range of specialized tools and materials for oxygen-free packaging, and microclimate generation, treatment, and storage, as well as other products for the protection of precious and sensitive objects.
Link here for Julia Brennan’s “Simple Anoxic Storage for Textiles in Bhutan” This paper outlines her system for providing an easy to use, inexpensive but high tech system to protect Bhutan’s cultural heritage.
Phlogiston, Oxygen, and Lavoisier’s “Day of Happiness”
Near the end of the eighteenth century, a methodical tax official in Louis XIV’s government spent his one free day a week focussing on science. He called it his “Day of Happiness”. Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier’s experiments to isolate Phlogiston (the “element” of fire) resulted in a milestone in the development of science- the process he discovered is at the heart of our own anoxic technology.
With the help of his young wife, Lavoisier carefully measured the weights of metals that were allowed to rust in a sealed container. Against all conventional wisdom, the metals were found to weigh more, not less, after rusting! This experiment spelled doom for the reigning theory which described a loss of “Phlogiston” as the active principal of elemental change. Where did the weight come from? In Lavoisier’s sealed container oxygen was drawn from the air and combined with the metal, making the rusted metal heavier.
Anoxic environments are easily created today, using flexible, high efficiency barrier films to create the sealed container. Ageless Oxygen Absorbers use the same chemical reaction as did Lavoisier to remove the oxygen from the air. The result leaves only nitrogen gas (once called dephlogisticated air) and provides a safe, non-reactive environment for storage of oxygen-sensitive materials and for treating insect infestations.
Sadly, Lavoisier did not live to enjoy the fruits of the discoveries of his days of happiness. Tax collectors have always been unpopular, and Lavoisier antagonized the wrong man at the wrong time. Jean-Paul Marat denounced Lavoisier, and the discoverer of the law of the conservation of mass lost his head to the guillotine during the Reign of Terror in 1794.