Biological air quality checks underway at Florence Cathedral

Biological air quality checks underway at Florence Cathedral

Lichens are being used to analyze micro-organisms in the air.

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Mon 18 Sep 2023 11:51 AM

Lichen bags have been placed at various points inside Florence Cathedral. The aim is to analyze the air quality within the historical complex.

This is the first time that the air in the cathedral has undergone biomonitoring due to a three-month project with the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, the Universities of Florence and Siena, the Italian Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, and Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei.

The air that humans breathe indoors carries particulates, known as PM, and micro-organisms, which is why the surveying in the Duomo is being conducted on two fronts: through biomonitoring the particulates and quantifying the micro-organisms in the air and on the surfaces of a range of materials, such as marble, stone and wood.

“The use of lichens has a long tradition in biomonitoring and is associated with their effectiveness to retain components dispersed in the air,” explains Aldo Winkler, a physicist at the Italian Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology. “We have used this multidisciplinary method at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, in the loggias frescoed by Raphael at Villa Farnesina and on the palatine hill of the Archaeological Park of the Colosseum in Rome, as well as in the National History Museum and Fine Arts Museum in Buenos Aires, for the purposes of checking, using non-invasive and organic methods, the spread of pollutant dust particles within places of cultural heritage in built environments.”

By analyzing the particulates accumulated by the lichens using chemical and magnetic methods, scientists will be able to discern if any pollutant metals have made their way into the cathedral. The data collected by the microbiological analysis provides information that will prove useful in pinpointing potentially hazardous species for human health and artistic heritage.

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