In a European multidisciplinary research project concerning environmental diagnostics, museums have been selected, having different climate and pollution conditions, i.e.: Correr Museum, Venice (Italy); Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (Austria); Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp (Belgium); Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich (UK). Some field tests investigated the microclimate, the gaseous and particulate air pollution and the biological contamination to suggest mitigative techniques that may reduce the potential for damage in the long run. Potential risk factors are generated by imbalance in temperature and humidity, generated by heating, air conditioning or ventilating system (HVAC), or the building structures, exchange of outside air, or large visitor numbers. HVAC may also enhance indoor gaseous pollution. Plants and carpets represent potential niches for bacterial colonisation. Pollutants and particles have been recognised having partly external and partly internal origin. Tourism has a direct negative impact, i.e. transport of external particles, release of heat, vapour and CO2, as well as generation of turbulence, which increases the deposition rate of particulate matter. However, the main problem is that the microclimate has been planned for the well being of visitors during only the visiting time, disregarding the needs of conservation that requires a constant climate by day and by night. In some of these cases, better environmental niches have been obtained with the help of showcases. In other cases, showcases worsened the situation, especially when incandescent lamps were put inside. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.