Mercury may be turning masterpieces black, researchers say

10/6/2013 | Nature (free content)

Vermilion paint, used by artists for centuries, degrades to black over time, and mercury may be to blame, according to a study published in Angewandte Chemie. Vermilion paint contains mercury and researchers theorize that the element's exposure to chlorine ions and light cause the degradation. To test this, chemists at the University of Antwerp in Belgium placed vermilion on a platinum surface and put it into water containing chlorine ions, causing the paint to turn black when exposed to laser light.

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