Formaldehyde Leak Detection System for History Museum Exhibit

Apr 23, 2020

Formaldehyde Leak Detection System for History Museum Exhibit

by | Apr 23, 2020


One of the UK’s most popular museums is home to a large animal exhibit measuring almost 9m in length. The animal is preserved inside a large tank which was constructed in California by the people who made the tanks for Damien Hirsts’ various artworks of animals in formaldehyde.

The tank is 9m and 45cm long and stands on a 1-metre stainless steel stand so that the exhibit can be viewed from any angle. The specially made acrylic tank is filled with a 10% solution of formol-saline as a preservative.

Formaldehyde is colourless, extremely flammable and has a suffocating odour. The chemical is dangerous if it is present in the air at a level more than 0.1 ppm, it can cause adverse effects like coughing, nausea, watery eyes, skin irritation and a burning sensation around the nose and eyes. The short-term effects of formaldehyde are common, but most people are not aware of its long-term health effects. Therefore, formaldehyde has been classified as a human carcinogen.



Inhaling – If the tank was to leak, formaldehyde would cause severe pulmonary reactions within a short period. The long terms results include pneumonia, bronchial irritation and pulmonary edema. Low concentrations cause moderate irritations like coughing and wheezing. It can also cause bronchial asthma. Upper airway irritation can occur even at low concentrations depending on the body’s reaction. The symptoms of upper airway irritation are a sore throat, burning sensation in the nose and nasal congestion.

Eye contact – The chemical produces a painful sensation and irritation of the eyes with severe redness, itching, burning and tearing.

Skin contact – Absorption of formaldehyde by the skin causes irritation and allergic reactions. The reactions can occur even at low concentrations as human skin is very sensitive. Allergic reactions as a result of formaldehyde absorption can include edema.

The risk assessment carried out by the museum indentified the possibility of potential formaldehyde leakage, anything above 0.3ppm release to atmosphere is considered a risk to health, and therefore low level gas detection was required as a first point of detection for formaldehyde leakage.



a1-cbiss were chosen to supply the gas detection and sampling system because of the ability to design, build and integrate the gas monitoring system at the in-house facility, project management, and provide installation and commissioning for major projects keeping quality control all in-house to ensure a trouble-free project.

Due to the size of the area within the museum and the low gas detection levels required, a1-cbiss engineered a solution that included two Innova 1412 Photoacoustic Gas Monitors which detects formaldehyde down to 0.1ppm as well as their own Mark IV Samplers which collects samples from over 70 locations across the museum.

CBISS Data Acquisition Software records data from the multiple locations, alarm levels reached and provides graphical data for reporting purposes.