Plasticair Helps Keep Smithsonian Workers Safe

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The Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum, but it’s also an education and research organization featuring twenty-one public museums, twenty-one libraries, nine research centers, and the National Zoo. Sometimes called “the nation’s attic”, the Smithsonian manages over 154 million items. In order to maintain, restore, and clean these mammoth collections, the Smithsonian also operates maintenance facilities in Maryland, New York, and Virginia.

According to the Smithsonian, “Most artifacts are inspected and cleaned about every three to four months.” However, cleaning can range from the gentle touch of a swab or cloth to deeper cleaning using acids or ammonia. When solvents are involved, the Smithsonian takes special care with its artifacts, but it also must provide accelerated ventilation and mitigate the effects of exhausting fumes into the atmosphere.

Dual-Stage Cleaning

Recently, the Smithsonian worked with Plasticair to implement a ventilation system featuring the Polycube for one of the museum’s restoration and cleaning locations. It minimizes vapor concentration in the workers’ breathing zones using capture hoods and duct systems. The implementation of this system dilutes or removes vapors while also increasing the amount of fresh air supplied to a work area.

Mirko Ljuboja is a Chemical Applications Engineer in training at Plasticair. He explains, “We built a two-stage scrubber for the cleaning facility run by the Smithsonian using Plasticair’s Polycube technology. At this location, the staff cleans artifacts, often using acids and ammonia in the process. We provided a replacement scrubber to clean the acid and the ammonia exhaust from the workspace. The scrubber featured dual-stage cleaning; one part provided acid cleaning, and the other provided ammonia cleaning.”


Not so long ago, such equipment would require an enormous amount of space. Today, Plasticair is able to provide a fairly compact solution. “We provided a solution to work on the pre-existing base,” Ljuboja emphasizes. “Plasticair provided the entire scrubber system on a steel base. It was a skid-mounted unit that could be installed easily.”

Polycube Packing

The Polycube incorporates high resistance for vertically flowing liquid, resulting in tremendous liquid turbulence and excellent liquid retention within the packing. Gravitational energy powers mixing, ultimately achieving mass transfer. As the liquid continuously flows downward, horizontally flowing gas encounters far less resistance. Although the gas is not exposed to a high rate of turbulence, it is exposed to a high rate of liquid contact.

“Our Polycube achieves 96 percent removal of general acids with greater efficiency,” says Ljuboja. “The Polycube was in the first stage of this two-stage scrubber. It removes acids first, puts it through a mist eliminator, and then proceeds to the ammonia or alkaline elimination stage, using Polycube Type 1. Typically, random packing will require six to eight GPM per square foot over the top surface of the packing section, while the Plasticair Polycube only requires two GPM per square foot. That’s a huge energy saving.”

Pretested and Ready to Install

When a contractor uses a Plasticair scrubber, minimal on-site assembly is required. “We install all the piping here at the factory,” says Ljuboja. “This particular project had one steel skid, which housed the exhaust fan, the control panel, and all the pumps. It was all completely assembled at the factory. Therefore, they could move the entire skid and put it in place when it arrived at the site. After that, the unit needs a little bit of touch-up and some calibration, which Plasticair can provide, and then it’s ready to go.”

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