We’ve known many people use olive oil to improve their skin and hair, or as a shaving lubricant. But we’ve now heard an utterly new use: A big dose of olive oil may save one of the most famous Christian cathedrals in the world from the damaging effects of acid rain.
Medieval craftsmen began work on the magnificent York Minister, in northern England, eight centuries ago. It’s the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe, and was built with ancient limestone from a local quarry. The cathedral has endured calamities like looting, pillaging, fire – you name it.
But experts have since determined that the limestone is very vulnerable to pollution such as acid rain. These pollutants have been spewing out of British factories since the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, causing the limestone to break down.
“The salts actually build up in the microstructure of the stone and eventually crack it, and large features will start to fall off the building,” Karen Wilson of Cardiff University in Wales told NPR. Wilson is heading a crack research team which is trying to protect York Minster and other buildings built from ancient limestone.
The researchers want a protective coating that’s water-repellent to keep out modern-day acid rain. But the coating must also allow the limestone to “breathe” so that decades-old pollutants already inside can escape.
And now the researchers hope they may have hit on a fix you can find in your household pantry: olive oil.
“The nice thing with oleic acid (olive oil’s main component),” Wilson told NPR “is that it has one end … which will selectively react with the stone, and then the other end – which is a very long hydrocarbon chain – will give you the hydrophobic properties to repel the water.”
According to NPR, the oleic acid is combined with another substance to create the protective coating. Wilson said the early results are good.
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