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Scientists Say Damien Hirst’s Formaldehyde Works Are Leaking Toxic Fumes

A study shows that Damien Hirst’s pickled animal works—which consist of sealed containers featuring dead animals suspended in a pool of formaldehyde—may have been dangerous to the public, reports Gareth Harris of the Art Newspaper.

A peer-reviewed journal of the London-based Royal Society of Chemistry, called Analytical Methods, published a report that says scientists recorded readings of formaldehyde at five parts per million at Hirst’s five-month exhibition at the Tate Modern in 2012. This is significantly higher than the European Union’s regulations, which set the limit at 0.5 parts per million.

However, Hirst and his company Science Ltd. deny that the works are unsafe. Science Ltd. said that it is “baffled” by the findings. The company says that its experts claim if the readings were actually this high than “your eyes would be streaming and you would be in serious physical discomfort.”

Pier Giorgio Righetti, a professor of chemistry at Milan Polytechnic said that visitors to the museum need not be concerned because they would not have been exposed long enough and should not have experienced any side effects. He also said that the fumes of formaldehyde probably decay exponentially in the surrounding space.

As for the staff, a Tate spokesman said that Righetti told them: “We cannot make any comment on whether or not there was any potential risk to staff, as this is outside the scope of our findings.”

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