Air Pollutant Intrusion into the Wieliczka Salt Mine

Lynn G. Salmon, Glen R. Cass, Roman Kozlowski, Anna Hejda, Elliot C. Spiker, and Anne L. Bates
Environmental Science and Technology, 30 (1996) 872--880


The Wieliczka Salt Mine World Cultural Heritage Site contains many rock salt sculptures that are threatened by water vapor condensation from the mine ventilation air. Gaseous and particulate air pollutant concentrations have been measured both outdoors and within the Wieliczka Salt Mine, along with pollutant deposition fluxes to surfaces within the mine. One purpose of these measurements was to determine whether or not low deliquescence point ionic materials (e.g., NH4NO3) are accumulating on surfaces to an extent that would exacerbate the water vapor condensation problems in the mine. It was found that pollutant gases including SO2 and HNO3 present in outdoor air are removed rapidly and almost completely from the air within the mine by dry deposition to surfaces. Sulfur isotope analyses confirm the accumulation of air pollutant-derived sulfur in liquid dripping from surfaces within the mine. Particle deposition onto interior surfaces in the mine is apparent, with resulting soiling of some of those sculptures that have been carved from translucent rock salt. Water accumulation by salt sculpture surfaces was studied both experimentally and by approximate thermodynamic calculations. Both approaches suggest that the pollutant deposits on the sculpture surfaces lower the relative humidity (RH) at which a substantial amount of liquid water will accumulate by 1% to several percent. The extraordinarily low SO2 concentrations within the mine may explain the apparent success of a respiratory sanatorium located deep within the mine.

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