The Vatican revealed on Oct. 30 that the air pollution brought on by tourists flocking to the Sistine Chapel every day has had a negative effect on the chapel's frescoes.

Officials started to notice four years ago that the frescoes were turning white. Calcium carbonate and calcium bicarbonate deposits covered pockets of the frescoes and while these were removed and did not cause permanent damage to the paintings, such calcium buildup could have resulted in lasting damages.

Although it is not clear where the powder originated, officials believe that it most likely formed because of the increasing amount of carbon dioxide and humidity that pass through the porous walls of the chapel.

Ulderico Santamaria, who heads the restoration laboratory of the Vatican Museums, said that the powdery patina was concentrated in areas where there was more absorption of water from the humid air or condensation in the walls of the chapel.

Vatican officials, however, hope that the newly installed air conditioning and air filtration system, which became operational last week, will protect the paintings at the Sistine Chapel from damage caused by the air pollution brought on by nearly six million visitors to the chapel every year.

The state of the art ventilation system, which was installed by Connecticut-based Carrier, uses three cameras that estimate the number of people in the chapel so the temperature and humidity inside could be adjusted according to these numbers.

"We know the amount of CO2 and humidity released by each visitor and can make adjustments accordingly, lowering the temperature or raising it if necessary to compensate for cold spells," Carrier's AdvanTE3C Solutions Center director Michel Grabon said.

The ventilation system would protect the frescoes from humidity and would allow up to 2,000 visitors at a time to get inside the chapel and see the world-renowned works of art without causing damage to the artworks.

The units are also silent and were designed to maintain a temperature ranging between 20 to 25 degrees Celsius with 50 to 60 percent humidity. The ventilation system also ensures that the amount of dust particles would not exceed 0.1 micrograms per cubic meter of air as well as keep the carbon dioxide levels to a minimum.

With the unit's remarkable features, energy consumption would have raised concerns, but Garbon said that the system is energy-efficient. It could reduce the energy output for ventilation by about 60 percent.

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