Pest treatment using Nitrogen gas: June 2019 update

The work by ICOM and many other cultural heritage organisations in the European Union to allow the renewed use of nitrogen as a pest treatment of cultural objects is gathering momentum and yielding the first results.

Under current legislation, Regulation No. 528/2012 (Biocidal Products Regulation – BPR), the use of Nitrogen gas to create anoxic environments for pest treatment purposes is not permitted. This has been posing problems for cultural heritage organisations across the EU who are concerned that the removal of this pest treatment option may endanger cultural objects which cannot be treated safely by freezing or heat treatments. Please see our previous briefings in March and May.

In an attempt to find a solution for the cultural heritage sector, ICOM has taken a leading role in disseminating information and coordinating responses from the heritage sector to the European Union and respective national governments. As part of this work, the ICOM UK committee is synchronising communication between the museums and historic houses in the UK and the UK’s Competent Authority on biocides, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

During the last week of May, ICOM became aware of an important deadline on 3rd June: on this day, EU member states had to notify the European Commission of their intention to apply for a derogation of Nitrogen from the BPR. In an attempt to increase HSE awareness of the requirements of the UK cultural heritage sector, and to highlight the urgency of the situation, ICOM UK issued a call for action which was followed promptly. Within hours HSE received a number of letters from the UK heritage sector asking HSE to apply for derogation.

Following a further conversation between ICOM UK and HSE, HSE have notified the European Commission that the UK is considering a derogation for generated Nitrogen, based on industry contacting them. This is a very positive response and means that the UK joins at least nine other countries considering a derogation for generated Nitrogen for cultural heritage purposes under the BPR. It is not the end of the process, as a formal application will need to be submitted at a later stage, but ICOM UK remains committed to helping find a suitable solution for heritage organisations.